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Calisolar lays off 80 California workers

Solar manufacturer withdraws federal loan application, decides to restructure business and open a new plant in Mississippi that could offer up to 1,000 jobs.

CaliSolar produces purified silicon. CaliSolar

Calisolar announced today it's firing 80 workers from its polysilicon solar-cell manufacturing plant in Sunnyvale, Calif.

The solar start-up, which was founded in 2006, has more than 350 employees, according to the company Web site.

As with many solar manufacturers, Calisolar has been plagued by a price war against cheaper solar cells made by foreign manufacturers. Solar cell prices have dropped drastically in the last year, forcing companies like Evergreen Solar and Solyndra to file for bankruptcy.

But in this case, the job loss in California may be balanced out by job creation by the company in Mississippi.

Calisolar has decided to focus on producing silicon and act as a supplier to other solar manufacturers, rather than focusing on solar manufacturing themselves. It's a move that the company tipped close listeners off to a few weeks ago.

In addition to its solar cells, Calisolar has been known for producing purified silicon or refined silicon from upgraded metallurgical silicon (aka "dirty" silicon) at a relatively low cost. Many say using refined silicon improves the quality and uniform efficiency when used in solar cells. The company already owns a solar silicon manufacturing plant in Ontario, Canada, and has been producing this type of silicon for its own products.

Just two weeks ago, Calisolar announced it was expanding into Lowndes County, Miss., to open a solar silicon production plant that will cost approximately $600 million to build, and produce 16,000 metric tons of purified silicon annually when fully operational. The company was offered $75 million in incentives to open the plant in Mississippi, and has the backing of Governor Haley Barbour.

"This innovative company will provide high-skilled, high-paying jobs for nearly 1,000 Mississippians, and the company's decision to locate here further demonstrates our state is a competitive location for advanced manufacturing with advanced materials," Barbour said in a statement.

At the time of that announcement, John Correnti, Calisolar's board chairman, indicated Calisolar would be shifting its focus to stay competitive.

"We've demonstrated that our low-cost silicon can produce high-performance solar cells, now sold commercially, which has been an important step in the growth of our company. Now, our focus is on expanding silicon production capacity--where we have the greatest competitive cost advantage--and achieving further cost savings," Correnti said in a statement.