Solar power company hopes to begin work in local plant by late 2012

SoloPower Inc. plans to build a $340 million solar panel manufacturing plant in Portland after backing away from a Wilsonville site.

Representatives of the San Jose company and the city announced the decision Friday morning at City Hall.

Although SoloPower is still looking at a number of potential sites in North Portland, Chief Executive Officer Tim Harris said the company hopes to complete the deal soon and break ground on the plant in July. Production is scheduled to start in September 2012.

'Portland is a great location for SoloPower,' Harris said.

The plant is expected to employee 130 people in the first 12 months and about 500 people when it is completed.

SoloPower produces thin-film photovoltaic modules for solar power systems. The lightweight modules use solar cell devices fabricated with copper indium gallium di-selenide, using a proprietary process.

Wilsonville proposal

The company had planned to build the plant at a former Nike distribution center in Wilsonville with the support of city urban renewal funds, but changed its plans when some residents circulated petitions to refer the urban renewal funding assistance to the ballot. Instead, Harris and Portland Mayor Sam Adams said, company officials began whirlwind negotiations with Portland economic development officials and quickly agreed to a package of financial incentives bringing the plant in Portland.

The approximately $57 million package includes nearly $18 million in tax abatements, $14 million in state tax credits, a $20 million state loan and $5 million in city loan guarantees, backed by Portland parking meter revenue.

The Portland Development Commission has pledged to repay the Portland Bureau of Transportation for the lost revenue if the $5 million needs to be spent.

The city is also prepared to spend a yet-to-be determined amount on work force training for the plant, in part in cooperation with Portland Community College.

Praise for the deal

The council will vote on the city's portion of the package next Wednesday.

'We had to move quickly to put this deal together, and we did,' Adams said.

Adams praised SoloPower as a clean energy company that fits well with the city's efforts to market itself as a leader in green technology. He said SoloPower's light, flexible wafers are on the cutting edge of solar power technology.

Sandra McDonough, president of the Portland Business Alliance, called the announcement 'a great day for Oregon and Portland.' Others who praised it included city commissioners Nick Fish, Amanda Fritz and Dan Saltzman, and a representative of Oregon Congressman Earl Blumenauer.

State Rep. Tina Kotek, who represents North Portland, welcomed SoloPower to the city and praised the deal bringing jobs to the area.

'The Rivergate Industrial Park is a great example of how industrial jobs can enhance a community,' Kotek said. 'Having these jobs in North Portland allows employees to work near where they live, and SoloPower's decision to site their facility in the area makes great use of this enterprise zone.

'North Portland has already welcomed one solar technology manufacturer to our community. We've also seen the benefits of our investments in clean, green energy in our neighborhoods. I look forward to further development between the emerging green energy industry and our state.'

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