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Published: Thursday, 4/30/2009

Solar plant CEO denies Florida deal

BY JON CHAVEZ
BLADE BUSINESS WRITER

Willard & Kelsey Solar Group LLC, which a month ago said it would build solar panels in Perrysburg beginning this year, yesterday denied a published report that it signed a deal to put its headquarters and a major manufacturing complex in the Orlando, Fla., area.

The company, which would be the Toledo area's fourth solar panel manufacturer, said its suburban project was proceeding, that it still planned to hire 400 workers by year's end, and to begin producing two million panels a year.

Bill Mitchell, company president and chief executive officer, insisted to The Blade that the firm "didn't sign any deal" with economic development officials in Florida to build a one million- square-foot solar panel park that would create nearly 3,700 high-paying jobs. The Orlando Sentinel newspaper said yesterday such a deal was signed.

"We're discussing this with many states. Everybody has a different incentive package, including Ohio," he said. "But we haven't signed any deal with anybody. We are talking to Florida, yes. But we are also talking with Michigan, Mississippi, and Ohio."

That project could cost $1.2 billion, and it has applied for $100 million in federal stimulus money to build the facility in Ohio. Its 262,000-square-foot plant along State Rt. 25 in the former Delafoil plant is a $14 million project.

The Orlando news story said Willard & Kelsey signed a a preliminary deal with Orlando area developer Crockett Development Property to build a solar panel park on 238 acres near Orlando International Airport.

It said Willard & Kelsey would locate its headquarters there and have a research facility near Toledo.

In the Florida article, Willard & Kelsey chief financial officer Mossie Murphy is quoted as saying, "We've entered into a preliminary agreement with a development group" in Orlando.

A Florida lawyer involved in the project, Fred Leonhardt, told the newspaper that a formal announcement could happen next week. Contacted yesterday, Mr.

Leonhardt declined to discuss his comments, but said, "If there is such signed agreement, I have not seen it."

Officials at the Metro Orlando Economic Development Commission, the area's lead economic development agency, said they do not comment on pending development deals or negotiations.

Steve Schoeny, head of the Ohio Department of Development's strategic business investment division, told The Blade the state is negotiating with Willard & Kelsey on the solar park, and he doesn't believe a decision has been made.

Ohio has offered an incentive package for the solar park project. In July, it provided a $5 million low-cost loan and $500,000 grant to develop the Perrysburg site.

Mr. Mitchell, of Willard & Kelsey, said yesterday he wasn't sure when a decision would be made on where to put the solar park, and it might have to wait for better financing conditions.

In its Ohio stimulus fund application, the firm proposed building four 250,000-square-foot buildings to house 16 solar panel production lines. Each building would have 920 workers who would each receive $65,000 annually in wages and benefits.

The start-up said it has orders for 300 megawatts worth of solar panels - about two million panels or what four lines produce in a year - and is negotiating to sell another 1,000 megawatts.

Tom Blaha, executive director of Wood County's Economic Development Commission, said, "As far as I'm concerned, [the solar park] is still in play, and it's still going to be in Ohio."

Contact Jon Chavez at:

jchavez@theblade.com

or 419-724-6128.



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