The chief executive of the nation’s largest solar company — which is proposing one of two solar-power stations in eastern San Luis Obispo County — is out of the post, First Solar Inc. said Tuesday.
Rob Gillette, who took over at the company two years ago, becomes the latest in a series of high-level departures at the Tempe, Ariz.-based company.
First Solar would say only that Gillette was “no longer serving as chief executive officer.”
His exit came, however, as some of the highest-profile companies in the sector find themselves under a congressional microscope.
Republican critics have called for ending solar loan guarantees since a one-time industry favorite and recipient of a half-billion-dollar loan, Solyndra LLC, sought bankruptcy protection in September.
In August and September, the government granted loan guarantees totaling $3 billion to First Solar projects this year under the same program that paid for Solyndra’s $528 million loan.
Earlier this month, First Solar and two San Luis Obispo County activist groups announced a lawsuit settlement that calls for the proposed 550-megawatt solar plant on the Carrizo Plain to be decommissioned after 35 years of operation and for the area to be restored to its natural state.
A First Solar spokesman wouldn’t comment further about Gillette’s departure.
His leave caused the company’s stock to fall more than 25 percent — the biggest one-day drop in company history, according to financial research firm FactSet.
Avian Securities analyst Mark Bachman said investors fled as the company refused to explain the decision.
“We don’t know if he was fired, or if he left under his own accord,” Bachman said. “There’s just an air of uncertainty around this company now.”
First Solar sold each of the projects tied to the loans to major utilities but still plans to develop and operate them.
Damien LaVera, a spokesman for the Energy Department, said the loans were made to the project, rather than to a company, which means that the project owner ultimately is responsible in case of problems. He said the government remains confident in the loans.
Board Chairman and company founder Mike Ahearn will take over temporarily as CEO.