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Solar company looks at Merix site

If component maker chooses Wood Village, it could be in production by 2009

A California solar cell component company is considering Wood Village among possible locations for a new plant that could employ as many as 160.

XsunX Corp., a startup green-technology company based in Orange County, Calif., has been in talks with East County officials, including Dave Fuller of Wood Village, about establishing its first component manufacturing facility in the area.

Fuller said he's optimistic the company could take over the building recently vacated by Merix Corp. The Forest Grove-based circuit board manufacturer started phasing out 180 jobs in January, and the company vacated the building it leases at 23365 N.E. Halsey St. in early March.

'I've had discussions with (XsunX) management over the last few weeks and finding out about their interest in it,' Fuller said of the Merix building. 'We've been encouraging Merix, as they've left, to find a business to occupy their plant - something high-tech like they were.'

XsunX is developing thin-film solar modules made with amorphous silicon to capture usable energy from the sun. Headquartered in California, the company has a research facility in Golden, Colo., and has been scouting for a location for a production facility since last fall. Chief Executive Officer Tom Djokovich said Oregon would be ideal for the company.

'Oregon is a great place for us to expand,' he said, citing the prevalence of affordable electricity through by hydropower sources. 'Our machines require electricity, and they consume a lot of power. The hydroelectric power source (in Oregon) is a large, clean source. The cost is a lot less.'

Djokovich confirmed the company has been negotiating with various city, state and business officials in the Portland area but would not specify a favored location.

'We're looking for a building up there,' he said. 'We hope to have an announcement as early as next week.'

The company is exploring economic incentives such as business energy tax credits through the Oregon Department of Energy and an enterprise zone tax abatement designation. XsunX officials specifically asked the city of Wood Village about a possible enterprise zone, said City Administrator Sheila Ritz.

Ritz is exploring a boundary change that would include the Merix site in the new enterprise zone shared by Fairview and Troutdale. If approved, the city would temporarily forfeit taxes on the company's investments but still collect revenue on the land and building. Wood Village City Council will consider the issue at its Tuesday, April 8, meeting.

XsunX officials indicated many skill sets of laid-off Merix employees could be transferable to processes in solar components, Ritz said.

'People with similar skills, probably with some training, could have jobs at this facility. It would be wonderful to get some people hired and working again,' she said.

Mayor Fuller wrote a letter this week to the Oregon Department of Energy encouraging the agency to support XsunX when it applies for energy tax credits.

'In addition to making a significant contribution in the development of renewable energy,' Fuller wrote, 'this start up venture will bring highly skilled, family wage, technology jobs to an economically distressed area. XsunX will play an important role in the future economic development of our area by hiring some of the displaced workers from Merix and, hopefully, restoring the city's lost revenue.'

Lou Torres, energy department spokesman, said the company has talked to agency officials but has not officially applied for credits.

'They'll eventually apply, I'm sure,' Torres said, adding the agency considers a range of factors and analyses in determining tax-credit eligibility.

Djokovich, who hopes to see the proposed facility in production mode by early 2009, said Oregon's business and economic climate is considerably more favorable than California for a company like XsunX. He cited a U.S. Department of Energy analysis on average electricity costs that showed a $1.2 million savings compared to the Golden State.

'An enterprise zone is one of the things that will help us compete, as a startup, with foreign competitors,' Djokovich said. 'It's definitely among the criteria that will help us be as competitive as possible.'