Chinese plant could power a Valley solar boom - East Valley Tribune: News

Chinese plant could power a Valley solar boom

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Posted: Monday, November 16, 2009 3:41 pm | Updated: 2:25 am, Sat Oct 8, 2011.

The move by China-based Suntech Power Holdings Co. to set up its U.S. headquarters and a solar manufacturing plant in the Valley could be the first of several solar-energy manufacturing facilities coming to Arizona, according to the Valley’s chief economic development executive.

Phoenix announced as new home of Chinese solar biz

The move by China-based Suntech Power Holdings Co. to set up its U.S. headquarters and a solar manufacturing plant in the Valley could be the first of several solar-energy manufacturing facilities coming to Arizona, according to the Valley’s chief economic development executive.

Phoenix announced as new home of Chinese solar biz

Four other makers of solar equipment, all of them foreign based, are looking at the Valley as a possible location for their U.S. operations, said Barry Broome, president of the Greater Phoenix Economic Council.

Suntech has not settled yet on an exact location for its plant. Broome said the company is looking at two possibilities, one on the east side of the Valley and one on the west side. He declined to say which cities are involved.

“Five companies are looking at a total of six cities,” he said.

The companies are interested in Arizona in part because of new tax breaks for solar manufacturing approved this year by the Arizona Legislature, he said. Also the economic downturn has left plenty of industrial space available for new users, he said.

Closed semiconductor plants are particularly attractive to solar companies because those buildings already have power infrastructure and industrial zoning in place, he said.

“There are a lot of advantages to semiconductor space, and the sector has cooled, so there is no shortage of space,” Broome said.

About 500,000 square feet of space formerly occupied by STMicroelectronics is available in the Valley, along with about 1 million square feet of former ON Semiconductor space and another million square feet of space vacated by Motorola, he said.

Suntech said it will need about 100,000 square feet.

Although Suntech’s $13 million first phase is relatively small, Broome said its symbolic value is great “because China is sending a signal that it is willing to do business here.” That means the Chinese may be willing to invest in Arizona more of the $600 billion to $700 billion they plan to spend in total on solar energy, he said.   

All of the solar companies seriously looking at the Valley are foreign based, primarily because they are the only ones that can line up financing for their operations, Broome said. Domestic solar manufacturers have been hampered by the freeze in bank lending and by reluctance by the U.S. Department of Energy to use stimulus money for such projects, Broome said.

“The U.S. market isn’t putting credit into these projects,” he said, apparently because solar energy is still viewed as risky despite many subsidies.

Chandler Economic Development Director Christine Mackey said her city doesn’t appear to be in the running for Suntech, but it might be more fortunate with the others.

“We have had three to five tours over the last month with (solar) companies that are looking at Chandler,” she said. “Everyone I have toured is internationally related.”

So far Chandler has only a couple of very small manufacturers of solar equipment, and “we’re anxious to land our first big one,” she said.

Tempe has been the subject of speculation about a possible Suntech site because the Chinese company has a research relationship with Arizona State University. City officials Monday would only release a statement that said “solar is a primary business sector of interest to Tempe for future growth and job creation. Tempe has an excellent relationship with the Greater Phoenix Economic Council, the Arizona Department of Commerce and Governor Brewer’s office on economic development issues.”

Harold Stewart, executive director of Scottsdale’s economic vitality division, said his city doesn’t appear to be in the running.

“We haven’t been targeting manufacturing because we don’t have much manufacturing space available,” he said. “We have an abundance of office space, but not manufacturing space.”

Economic development officials from other East Valley cities could not be immediately reached Monday.

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