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SoloPower deal paves way for thin-film solar plant

Silicon Valley-based thin-film solar company secures a loan from the state of Oregon to build a manufacturing plant as it seeks to bring more products to market.

Solar panel maker SoloPower has secured financing to build a manufacturing plant in Oregon, a step toward ramping up production of its thin-film solar technology.

As part of a deal carved out with the state of Oregon, SoloPower said yesterday, it will receive a $20 million loan toward the initial construction phase, which will consist of a 75-megawatt manufacturing line employing 170 people. SoloPower, which is seeking a loan guarantee from the Department of Energy, intends to eventually expand the plant to turn out 300 megawatts worth of panels per year.

SoloPower touts its flexible thin-film solar cells as easy and inexpensive to install. SoloPower

San Jose, Calif.-based SoloPower makes thin-film flexible solar collectors, which are not really panels so much as they are long rolls of solar cells made from copper, indium, gallium, and selenium (CIGS) attached to a foil backing. SoloPower's rolled solar panels can be unfurled and wrapped onto racks or laminated to the roofs of commercial buildings. The company has a production line in San Jose but has been seeking to manufacture on a larger scale.

Though some companies have been making improvements in the efficiency of CIGS cells, they are generally not as efficient at converting sunlight into electricity as are traditional solar cells. But they do have the advantage of being inexpensive and easy to install, and they offer more installation options than traditional silicon solar panels.

Approval for an additional $20 million Business Energy Tax Credit (BETC) from the state of Oregon is pending. The total completion of a high-volume version of the proposed plant in Wilsonville, Ore., represents a $340 million investment in total, according to SoloPower.

Without the government loan guarantee or tax credits approved, it's unclear whether SoloPower will have the means to move forward on the expansion from a 75-megwatt plant to the planned 300-megawatt plant. SoloPower CEO Tim Harris has said in the past that without government assistance, the company would likely seek to manufacture its products overseas in order to remain competitive.

For now, at least one Oregon official seems happy with SoloPower's initial investment leading to 170 jobs and a promise of hundreds more to come.

"SoloPower's considerable investment in Wilsonville has the potential to produce several hundred family-wage jobs that represents a tremendous opportunity for the city, Portland metro region, and the state," Wilsonville Mayor Tim Knapp said in a statement.