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Published: Saturday, 7/25/2009

First Solar will build panel plant in France

BY GARY T. PAKULSKI
BLADE BUSINESS WRITER

First Solar Inc. is getting ready to clone its Perrysburg Township solar panel manufacturing plant once again.

The Tempe, Ariz., company said this week it has teamed with France's EDF Energies Nouvelles to build the European nation's largest solar panel manufacturing plant at a yet-undetermined site.

When finished, the factory will be able to make panels capable of producing 100 megawatts of power. In its first year, it will churn out enough panels to make electricity for 19,000 homes, spokesmen said. The plant will employ 300 when fully operational in the second half of 2011. The cost will be $128 million.

EDF, partially owned by France's largest electricity provider, will put up half the construction and start-up costs. First Solar will build and manage the facility.

As with other plants, the French factory will be a near-replica of First Solar's plant in Perrysburg Township, spokesman Lisa Morse said. "You can walk from plant to plant and they're all the same," she said.

Personnel from the company's research and design center in Perrysburg will be involved in planning and building the French factory. Ms. Morse could not say how many local employees will be involved.

As part of what First Solar describes as its "copy smart" system, modifications to manufacturing processes are introduced and refined in Perrysburg, then installed in other plants worldwide. That has led to a collection of factories that, except for minor variations, look alike.

First Solar employs more than 700 in metro Toledo. Besides Perrysburg, the company operates plants in Frankfurt (Oder), Germany, and Kulim, Malaysia.

First Solar's original plant in Perrysburg is undergoing a $100 million expansion expected to be completed next year. It will add a fourth production line, more research space, and offices. The project will boost production to 2.8 million panels annually from 2 million.

The French plant will start with two production lines.

First Solar's French partner has committed to buying all panels the plant can make for the first 10 years. Government officials in France recently announced a push for the nation to become a leader in sustainable energy technologies, including solar electricity.

Contact Gary Pakulski at:

gpakulski@theblade.com

or 419-724-6082.



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