A year ago, Solectric Inc. was little more than a concept. Today the Troutdale-based start-up is being courted by a handful of states hoping to land the 100,000-square foot manufacturing plant the company wants to build.
Company officials remain coy, saying Oregon remains in contention for the plant, which will make thin-film solar modules, and its 220 jobs.
“It looks like it’s going to be here,” CEO Paul Hodge Jr. said this week.
State officials, however, worry that Solectric could join a growing list of solar companies that got away. While Oregon was once one of the few states fighting to recruit solar energy companies, the field of competitors is growing. And for every SolarWorld and Sanyo Solar the state has lured, just as many ended up elsewhere.
“My biggest fear,” said Tim McCabe, director of the Oregon Economic & Community Development Department, the state’s chief job recruitment division, “is that when we’ve convinced (a company) they need to be here, that they go shopping once they’ve got our offer.”
Oregon has placed significant emphasis on promoting the state as the epicenter of solar manufacturing in the U.S,, touting its access to a skilled workforce, relatively cheap electricity, and proximity to California, which represents 80 percent of the U.S. solar market.
The state gained significant momentum with the addition of SolarWorld, which last fall opened the world’s largest photovoltaic manufacturing plant in Hillsboro, and Sanyo Solar, which broke ground in Salem in October on a plant to produce solar ingots and wafers.
State officials are in talks with several other companies to add to the momentum, McCabe said.
“What doesn’t get reported, is we don’t win a lot of these,” McCabe said.
German firm Schott Solar Inc., a company Oregon targeted, announced in Jan. 2008 its plans to build a plant in Albuquerque, N.M. Evergreen Solar Inc. chose to stay in its home state of Massachusetts after receiving an incentive offer from Oregon.
And in October, Oslo-based Renewable Energy Corporation ASA announced it would invest $3 billion in Singapore in a photovoltaic manufacturing plant that will include 1,300 jobs in the first phase. Oregon officials said the state hoped to lure the project.
“The big thing we’re seeing now is that other states woke up about six months ago,” said Bruce Laird, the OECDD’s recruitment specialist for the renewable energy sector. “We used to have an absolutely clear field in talking to these companies and now we’re seeing the big-incentive states showing up.”
That includes New Mexico, which — among other things — gave Schott $7.5 million in addition, and Tennessee, which has shown its muscle in the past by luring once-lucrative auto manufacturing jobs to the state.
McCabe said it’s natural and acceptable for companies like Solectric to play the field.
“Evergreen was one that originated in Massachusetts, came out here, went back to Massachusetts, and they beat it,” McCabe said. “They’re not dishonest. They’re trying to get the best deal. That’s a real-world business situation.”
Hodge said Solectric has met with officials in Nevada, Utah, California and Washington, but Oregon has thus far provided the best opportunity.
The company hopes to decide within a month. It has selected sites in Salem and Washington County, but would not identify exact locations because it is still in negotiations with county officials.
“We just feel so far that the state and counties locally are willing to contribute the most to help fund our facility,” Hodge said.
Solectric’s plans include an initial 100,000-square-foot plant to produce 20 megawatts of capacity.
It plans to use an existing thin-film manufacturing production line, enhancing it with laser technology it believes can produce solar electric modules that are more efficient and cost effective.
Solectric plans to sell the modules using a network of licensed dealers for residential commercial-scale projects.
Hodge said the company already owns 900 acres near Reno, Nev., on which it will develop a 150 megawatt solar farm that today would be the world’s largest solar project, he said. The $500 million project will take seven years to complete, he said.
Hodge said the company’s panels can be affixed to the sides of buildings or balconies, allowing them to look like tinted windows that generate electricity.
Justin Pentelute, the company’s director of sales, said Solectric has $4 million in pre-sales, not including pending commercial-scale projects the company said are forthcoming.
Hodge said the company anticipates $30 million in 2009 sales, a figure he expects to grow to $80 million a year later.
The anticipated market demand already has the company planning for a second, 100,000-square-foot phase to its yet-to-be-located manufacturing plant.
“This next 12 months is the big gold rush for solar,” Hodge said. “We’re making history right now.”
While some solar companies nationwide are struggling under tight credit markets, the Solar Energy Industries Association this week said the passage of a federal stimulus bill — filled with an array of solar incentives — could generate as many as 67,000 jobs this year nationwide.
“And we are just getting started, as these figures will more than double in 2010,” Rhone Resch, the trade group’s president and CEO, said in a news release.
Oregon officials, meanwhile, continue to recruit new solar companies, with a particular focus on firms that supply photovoltaic manufacturers.
“We’re still the leading manufacturer of solar in the U.S. and that’s going to grow,” McCabe said. “The potential is huge and I really think we’re going to realize that potential. How big? It’s probably not going to be as big as I want.”
By Erik Siemers, Portland Business Journal – http://portland.bizjournals.com/portland/stories/2009/02/09/story2.html?b=1234155600^1774428&page=2