U.S. Company Bets on Solar Manufacturing Upturn With New Plant

A U.S. energy company is betting it can help revive domestic solar manufacturing by moving a panel factory from the Pacific Northwest to Upstate New York and cashing in on government support.

Convalt Energy is developing a factory in Watertown, New York, that Chief Executive Officer Hari Achuthan envisions producing about 700 megawatts of panels annually.

The company is working to finalize incentives from the county government, according to Achuthan, and it’s investing $30 million on equipment and a new building for the project. It’s purchasing tools and machinery from SunPower Corp. in a deal that closed in April.

Read More: SunPower Closing Its Last Solar Panel Manufacturing Plant

The venture is a test of a commitment by the Biden administration and Democrat-led Congress to invest in clean power and the domestic supply chain to support it. Some Republicans have faulted President Joe Biden’s green ambitions, saying his planned shift away from fossil fuels increases reliance on foreign manufacturing and will deprive domestic workers of jobs.

“This transition that we’re undergoing from fossil fuels to renewables to create energy is the biggest change that’s happened in our economy -- in our world -- in over 150 years,” said Richard Gephardt, the former No. 2 Democrat in the House of Representatives and a shareholder in Convalt. “This is an enormous set of challenges, and it can’t happen without enormous private-public partnerships to basically bring it all together.”

Convalt representatives have been touting their manufacturing goals -- as well as the potential job and national security benefits -- in meetings with Biden administration officials, including representatives of the U.S. Energy and Transportation departments.

“Your business plan should never be completely dependent on policies of the government,” Achuthan said. Still, “there has to be a federal policy of maintaining tariffs to provide us the ability to get started -- to get the initial demand going.”

The Biden administration is set to decide the fate of tariffs on imported solar equipment that are scheduled to expire early next year, and the president has asked Congress to expand a tax credit worth 30% the cost of advanced energy factories.

©2021 Bloomberg L.P.

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