Panels made in $500-million solar module facility expected to be available toward the end of 2010
Toronto Star: Tyler Hamilton - March 26, 2009
Four entrepreneurs from Toronto announced an ambitious plan yesterday to build a $500-million solar module manufacturing facility in Kingston, an investment expected to create 1,200 direct and indirect "green-collar" jobs in the area.
Everbrite Solar, a division of Toronto-based Everbrite Industries Ltd., said the plant would be capable of producing 150 megawatts of solar modules every year, roughly enough to supply power to 20,000 homes annually.
The plan includes an investment of up to $25 million in an experimental robotic production line that researchers at Queen's University will use to improve the performance and reliability of the solar modules, which will be based on "thin-film" manufacturing techniques that allow for high-volume, low-cost production.
"Fundamentally, it's a vote of confidence in what the (Ontario) government is currently proposing and putting into action. It's also a great shot in the arm for the Kingston area," said George Hanus, director of advanced manufacturing at the Toronto Region Research Alliance, a public-private organization dedicated to attracting research-intensive investment to the GTA and outlying areas.
The announcement comes a month after the provincial government tabled its comprehensive Green Energy Act. Ontario's power authority followed up on March 12 by outlining a program that proposes to pay 44.3 cents per kilowatt-hour for electricity from large solar plants and up to 80.2 cents for power generated off residential rooftop systems.
Energy and Infrastructure Minister George Smitherman is also considering rules that would require a certain amount of local content for large renewable-energy projects.
Karl Scherre, president and CEO of Everbrite, said Ontario's new pro-renewable policies – including domestic content requirements – are expected to create enough local demand for solar panels to justify the investment in a manufacturing facility.
"The Green Energy Act is a clear signal to global lenders that Ontario is serious about solar power and that has proved helpful in our financing efforts," said Scherre. "We have strong interest from investors both here in North America and in Europe."
He said the company will begin altering an old factory in Kingston this summer and install equipment imported from overseas for its manufacturing line over the next nine months. Assuming all funding is obtained, the first panels will be commercially available toward the end of 2010, he added.
The new manufacturing facility could mean better prices for local solar developers.
"There is a distinct cost advantage to purchasing from a local supplier," Scherre said. "The raw materials will all be sourced in North America, which means lower shipping costs. And the fact that the new factory will be fully robotic eliminates any labour advantage that Asia may have."
Everbrite's founders all come from the Toronto business community. Chief operating officer Carl Piercy heads up solar developer Gander Energy Corp., while chief financial officer Dave Hardy is principal at management consultancy Hardy Stevenson & Associates. The company's legal counsel is Keith Hunt, a lawyer at Labatt Brewing Co. Ltd.
Scherre is a master electrician and owner of Everbrite Industries, a construction and electrical contracting company that plans to expand aggressively into solar installation and development, complementing the manufacturing facility.
The Kingston plant has been under negotiation for months.
"We're thrilled it's finally out, and it looks like this is really going to happen," said Joshua Pearce, an associate professor of mechanical and materials engineering at Queen's University and an expert on thin-film solar technologies.
His research team, he said, will be able to use Everbrite's pilot line to test incremental advancements out of the lab and then to quickly adopt any performance improvements on the main commercial production line.
"From a researcher's perspective this is sort of a dream come true," Pearce said.
He added that thin-film solar cells are more ideal for the Canadian climate because they can absorb diffuse and ambient light, making it possible to generate some electricity even on cloudy days and when the sun is low in the sky. Conventional solid crystalline cells need more direct and unobstructed sunlight.
Scherre said Everbrite is already negotiating with three local solar developers that are "tremendously interested" in buying the company's product. For all projects to date, all developers have imported product from the United States, Europe and Asia.
Many developers contacted by the Star, however, have expressed concern the power authority’s new pricing program for solar penalizes large projects by putting a cap on project size and offering a lower incentive compared to smaller systems.
And unlike the Obama Administration, there are no loan guarantees coming out of Queen’s Park or Ottawa to lower risk for such manufacturing initiatives and stimulate investment.
Last Friday, the U.S. Department of Energy announced a $535-million (U.S.) loan guarantee for California’s Solyndra Inc., which is building a commercial-scale solar PV manufacturing plant, also based on thin film technology.
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