Signet Solar backs out of $840m manufacturing centre, denied DOE funding

Signet Solar has backed out of its plans to build a US$840 million manufacturing center in the city of Belen, New Mexico. The amorphous-silicon thin-film solar company was unable to keep its commitment, as it could not secure funding for the project from the U.S. Department of Energy, according to News-Bulletin.

Back in January, DOE rejected the company's loan guarantee that was to back 80% of the US$220 million of the initial funding for the four-part expansion of the plant.

Jim Wood, VP of Coast Range Investments, told Belen city councilors on April 5 that the company received word of the withdrawal from Signet officials March 30, almost three months after DOE rejected the loan guarantee, according to news reports.

The city now faces upheaval, as the new plant was not only touted to create approximately 600 high-paying jobs, primarily for Valencia County residents, but also puts a stop to the completion of the North Belen Interchange, a US$7.1 million project that would give motorists access to the west side of the interstate as well as easier access in both south and northbound directions.

The company was supposed to build on part of 6,000 acres in the Rancho Cielo development, which is projected to bring 20,000 homes to the area over the next 30 years. The land stretches from the Belen Business Loop 13, west of Interstate 25, to Los Lunas.

Coast Range Investments said that it would wait to contribute the US$4 million it committed to the project until an additional user or company agrees to build on Rancho Cielo land. "We are pledged to complete the interchange," Wood said. "But we need a user." He also said that Signet has had trouble competing in a global solar-panel market that has seen other companies in China that are able to sell a similar product for about 20% less.

Belen officials plan to schedule a workshop sometime in the next two weeks that will include the announcement of Signet's withdrawal as well as budget issues the city is facing.

Andrew DiCamillo of Belen Planning & Zoning said, "Stopping a project of this magnitude in its tracks is like stopping a train."

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