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It appears the waivered salary of 2011 from Frank Asbeck, CEO for SolarWorld, was not wasted. The company has invested a total of US$27million to upgrade and replace several factory systems at its Hillsboro, Oregan, US, plant. This particular facility was considered to be one of the ‘last plants standing’ in September 2011 because production lines were shuttered in Germany and throughout the US. The Hillsboro location also houses a demonstration park to debut technological advances, which it hopes will boost the power output of its high-performance solar panels. The new initiatives push SolarWorld’s total capital investment in Hillsboro to more than US$600 million.
Work to install new manufacturing systems, from today through the first quarter of 2013, will implement three technological advances fostered and tested by SolarWorld research-and-development specialists in Oregon and Europe, with the goal of increasing the power output of its PV cells.
Tom Gutierrez, CEO of GT Advanced Technologies, identified SolarWorld as “protectionist”, reflected in SolarWorld claiming “competitive reasons” for not disclosing upgrade details.
SolarWorld states that 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.
“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 US 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.
Gordon Brinser, president of SolarWorld Industries America, 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% 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.
However, it is this example of financial relief that has resulted in SolarWorld being dubbed a “hypocrite”. According to the Coalition for Affordable Solar Energy (CASE) – SolarWorld’s main opposition in the trade case against China – SolarWorld has received more than one hundred million dollars in direct supply-side subsidies giving the company the competitive advantage it has accused the Chinese of.
Nevertheless, Brinser has expressed gratitude for support from US Senators Ron Wyden and Jeff Merkley for the company’s effort on behalf of the US solar manufacturing industry to pursue trade cases to hold the Chinese industry accountable to international and US trade laws.
In turn, SolarWorld states it 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, SolarWorld reports that the Hillsboro operation in 2011 also purchased some US$86 million in goods and services in Oregon and another US$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.”