Solar power is here to stay, and the announcement last week of a new $600 million solar silicon factory for Mississippi may take some of the sting out of the recent bankruptcy shocker from solar manufacturer Solyndra. The new factory will be built by Calisolar in Lowndes County and will generate about 1,000 jobs at the peak of its construction activity in addition to new green jobs at the completed facility. As a kickstarter for general economic development, the new plant could generate about $42 million in payroll locally and statewide. That all translates into new tax revenues but there is no such thing as a free lunch, and there is plenty of government help involved.
How to Make a New $600 Million Solar Factory Happen
The new facility is the beneficiary of a huge solar energy incentive package approved by Mississippi’s state legislators that focuses on infrastructure and training. That complements another package approved by the Tennessee Valley Authority and Lowndes County. The company also cites a nearby university and other elements of the education network as major factors in its decision to locate a major new job-generator in Lowndes County – something to think about before public investment in education is cut to the bone.
Federal Funding for Calisolar
Calisolar has received a clean energy manufacturing tax credit under the federal American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, and this summer Calisolar was announced as a candidate for a Department of Energy loan guarantee under the Obama Administration’s new SunShot Initiative. SunShot is designed to bring the cost of solar energy down to fossil fuels within a few years, and the loan program helps companies bridge the “valley of death” gap between financing the development of new solar technology and building the factories to actually get the stuff made. Calisolar has other options available and its position on the loan offer is unclear as of this writing, but in the past it has received funding from the Department of Energy to develop new solar technology.
Calisolar and Solar Silicon
Calisolar already has a manufacturing facility in California (for which it was awarded a $5 million Clean Energy Business loan from the state’s Energy Commission, by the way), and the Jacksonville facility will enable it to expand into what it sees as an increasing demand for its high performance solar silicon product. The secret ingredient that could help it to compete where Solyndra failed is an energy-efficient silicon solar production process, along with the use of low-cost standard foundary equipment.
A Growing Market for Solar Silicon
New technologies are starting to edge into the solar market, but these are years away from commercial development and in the mean time, silicon is the go-to product. Just a couple of indicators of where the market is heading in the near term: entire solar housing developments are gaining in populariety, and the U.S. Army has adopted a “net-zero” energy policy for its bases that includes a generous application of solar energy. The Solyndra bankruptcy was bad news, but it will not spell the end of public funding and support for the solar industry.
Image credit: Solar panels by Andreas Demmelbauer on flickr.com.