SolarWorld, the largest solar manufacturer in the Western Hemisphere, celebrated its fifth anniversary of revitalizing, expanding and staffing a formerly idle semiconductor wafer factory. The company has made new investments totaling $27 million to upgrade and replace several factory systems and debut technological advances that will boost the power output of its high-performance solar panels.
Work to install new manufacturing systems through the first quarter of 2013 will implement three technological advances fostered and tested by SolarWorld research-and-development specialists in Oregon and Europe. All three upgrades will increase the power output of the company’s photovoltaic cells – the light-sensitive building blocks of panels – to propel the company further ahead in its solar-technology leadership worldwide. For competitive reasons, SolarWorld will not detail the upgrades. The work will employ dozens of contractors’ employees, without affecting either the company’s Hillsboro workforce of about 1,000 or its total unit output.
The new initiatives push SolarWorld’s total capital investment in Hillsboro to more than $600 million, establishing the plant as the only solar factory in the Western Hemisphere that does every manufacturing step. In August 2007, the company began activating production tools as it renovated the former 480,000-square-foot plant of Komatsu, which had stood idle since that company had shuttered its facility and laid off its workforce in September 1999. In 2009, SolarWorld built a new, 210,000-square-foot building to house a panel-assembly factory and bigger logistics center. In 2010, the company bought an adjacent property, adding 40,000 square feet of building space on six acres and resulting in a total of 750,000 square feet of building space on 103 acres.
“SolarWorld’s constant forward progress extends Oregon’s leadership of the solar industry, one of the most essential energy industries of the future,” said Ryan Deckert, president of the Oregon Business Association. “The company is making advances on multiple fronts to pull further ahead of the global competition: streamlining manufacturing costs, boosting its products’ power output, and leading the domestic industry in restoring fair competition in the U.S. solar market.”
“I congratulate SolarWorld as an ideal partner in Oregon’s effort to build on its strengths of high-technology manufacturing at the cutting edge of the nation’s manufacturing renaissance,” Deckert said. “Even in the face of tremendous challenges due to unfair trade, SolarWorld has demonstrated a lasting commitment to the U.S. renewable energy sector.”
Marking the anniversary, Gordon Brinser, president of SolarWorld Industries America Inc., expressed appreciation for the many public and private stakeholders that have supported the company’s ongoing build-out. SolarWorld monetized some Oregon business energy tax credits though 2010, and this year the company expects to monetize additional credits. In all, these sums will offset about 4 percent of its total capital outlay. Like many industrial companies that make capital improvements within Hillsboro’s Enterprise Zone, SolarWorld also has received temporary relief of taxes on capital improvements, while still paying property, payroll, transit and other taxes. Both types of incentives are open to companies of any industry or national ownership.
Brinser also expressed gratitude for support from U.S. Senators Ron Wyden and Jeff Merkley for the company’s effort on behalf of the U.S. solar manufacturing industry to pursue trade cases to hold the Chinese industry accountable to international and U.S. trade laws.
In turn, SolarWorld has fulfilled its commitment to create and maintain an average of about 1,000 jobs over several years. In addition, since SolarWorld began its modernizations, construction trailers on the Hillsboro site have become semi-permanent fixtures, serving dozens of construction workers and consulting engineers – up to nearly 1,000 at peak – who staff factory upgrades and expansions. Excluding payroll, the Hillsboro operation in 2011 also purchased some $86 million in goods and services in Oregon and another $22 million in Washington, creating and supporting jobs at a swelling constellation of regional solar-industry suppliers.
“Though pioneered in the United States, the solar industry is very much a global industry today, and the competition – both fair and unfair – is truly fierce, especially amid today’s turbulent times,” Brinser said. “In this light, it is heartening that with the steady commitment of our corporate leadership, our public partners and our dedicated employees alike, we find ourselves in the enviable position of starting our sixth year at this site just as we started out here – by once again rolling out the most advanced solar technologies on Earth. With these investments, and a successful conclusion of our trade case against China, SolarWorld will be poised to thrive in a fairly traded solar marketplace.”