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New Oregon solar panel plant getting federal help

Thu, 02/17/2011 - 4:13pm
JEFF BARNARD - AP Environmental Writer - Associated Press

The manufacturer of a new generation of rooftop solar panels is getting a $197 million federal loan guarantee to expand a plant being built in Oregon, Energy Secretary Steven Chu announced Thursday.

Chu said in a teleconference that the renewable energy loan guarantee is going to SoloPower, a Silicon Valley startup that makes thin-film solar panels.

"We want technologies invented in America to be made in America," Chu said.

Sen. Jeff Merkley, D-Ore., said the plant in Wilsonville is bringing 1,000 construction jobs and 500 manufacturing jobs to Oregon, which has become a leader in photovoltaic solar panel production.

SoloPower CEO Tim Harris said company is not likely to walk away from the plant after just a few years and take the jobs overseas, the way another solar panel maker did in Massachusetts.

The terms of the loan require sticking around 10 years, and SoloPower's investment in training and equipment makes it better to stay than move, he said. With a new technology and new equipment, it is not facing the same circumstances as Evergreen in Massachusetts, which was making an older generation of solar technology.

Gov. John Kitzhaber said the lightweight panels were ideally suited to putting on the rooftops of homes and other buildings, an area of renewable energy production he is interested in expanding.

Harris said he is also in talks with the state of Oregon on a $20 million business energy tax credit and a $20 million low-interest loan.

The plant is expected to be up and running on a first phase, employing about 140 people, by the end of the year, said Mike Grainey of Business Oregon.

Oregon already has solar power technology plants employing 1,700 people, according to the governor's office.

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