First Solar has selected the location of its second manufacturing center in the United States, and it’s a short drive from the company’s Tempe, AZ, headquarters. A 135-acre site in Mesa that once hosted a General Motors vehicle testing facility will see the creation of a cadmium-telluride thin-film PV module factory, a $300 million capital investment which will feature four production lines and be suitable for future expansion. 

The company said that construction on the new plant will begin in the second quarter, with initial module shipments expected to start in the third quarter of 2012. Employment rolls will grow, with the hiring of 400-500 construction workers and another 600 positions at the factory itself.   

First Solar plans to install a 3MW rooftop PV system at the site as well as deploy an extensive ground-mounted testing facility. 

Although initially rated at more than 250MW capacity, that figure is based on First Solar’s annualized production line run rate from the fourth quarter of 2010—62.6MW.

The company’s run rate increased about 30% from 2008 to 2010; with a similar level of improvement, the Mesa plant’s capacity could exceed 80MW per line, for a total of >320MW, when all of the production capability comes online.

Further details on the timeline for construction, equipping, and ramp-up of the new factory have not yet been disclosed.

The Mesa site will join First Solar’s group of existing and future manufacturing centers in Perrysburg, OH, Germany, Malaysia, and Vietnam (with a proposed site in France on hold, pending an evaluation of market conditions there).  

Truck convoys transporting stacks of thin-film modules west from Mesa along the interstate to the Aqua Caliente PV power plant site will likely be a common sight by the time the factory’s first production runs begin next year and the construction on the NRG-owned, First Solar-built 290MW (AC) project in Yuma County, AZ, is well under way.   

In addition to Agua Caliente, the company has almost 170MW of projects under construction or set to begin construction in 2011 in the southwestern U.S. and Ontario, with another 1.65GW of projects in development (with signed power purchase agreements) in California and Nevada.

“Supportive state and federal policies have provided the visibility needed for the U.S. to become our fastest‐growing market, and the Mesa factory will enable us to meet that growing demand,” said Bruce Sohn, president of First Solar.

“Programs such as Department of Energy loan guarantees and the solar investment tax credit are crucial to helping the renewable energy industry quickly reach the scale needed to compete with fossil fuels. Over the long‐term, programs like these facilitate the market growth and investment that will support the future expansion of this factory,” he added.

“First Solar’s presence in Arizona has been a great engine in driving our renewable energy sector forward,” said Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer. “And now its plans for a 135‐acre technology campus—with 600 quality jobs and the potential for hundreds more—will propel Arizona into its second century, while promoting the Arizona Commerce Authority’s plan for business attraction, retention, and expansion. We are grateful that First Solar’s leadership has confidence in my Cornerstones of Reform –including the Arizona Competitiveness Package. “

Information about the extent of state and local incentives offered to First Solar has also not yet been disclosed.

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