First Solar to Double U.S. Panel Capacity With New Plant

First Solar Inc., the largest U.S. solar-panel maker, plans to invest $680 million in a new factory in Ohio to more than double its manufacturing capacity in the country.

The plant’s 3.3 gigawatts of annual solar-panel manufacturing capacity would boost First Solar’s U.S. footprint to 6 gigawatts a year, the company said in a statement Wednesday.

The expansion follows years of solar factory shutdowns in the U.S. that have made the country reliant on imports from Asia. There was an uptick in panel manufacturing during the Trump administration, and now President Joe Biden, who has made climate a centerpiece of his agenda, has signaled he may continue a tough trade stance against China.

“We made a decision on this that is not necessarily tied to tariffs or potentially even industrial policies, but we believe it’s important,” Mark Widmar, First Solar’s chief executive officer, said in an interview. “We believe that if we really want to accomplish an objective of long-term energy independence and security, we have to.”

First Solar has been mulling potential sites for a manufacturing expansion for some time. Late last year, in advance of Biden’s inauguration, Widmar said a decision hinged in part on the new president’s trade policies.

Tempe, Arizona-based First Solar isn’t the only solar company prepping a new U.S. factory. Roofing giant Standard Industries Inc.’s GAF Energy and Convalt Energy are also planning new domestic facilities. First Solar is also considering further expansion of its manufacturing footprint.

The 1.8-million square foot (170,000 square meter) facility in Lake Township, Ohio, is expected to begin operations in the first half of 2023, contingent on permitting and approval of state, regional and local incentives.

The company expects the facility to create about 500 jobs and plans to fund construction with existing cash resources. First Solar also has factories in Malaysia and Vietnam.

Its shares rose 1.7% to $77.68 at 11:18 a.m. in New York, trimming the year-to-date loss to 22%.

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