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Published: Saturday, 9/3/2011

$455.7M loan to help First Solar projects

BY JON CHAVEZ
BLADE BUSINESS WRITER
From left, First Solar operations specialist Paul Reimer, Export-Import banker Fred Hochberg, Sen. Sherrod Brown, and operations specialist Lisa Hoffman look over the Perrysburg-area plant. From left, First Solar operations specialist Paul Reimer, Export-Import banker Fred Hochberg, Sen. Sherrod Brown, and operations specialist Lisa Hoffman look over the Perrysburg-area plant.
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The federal Export-Import Bank of the United States will loan $455.7 million to First Solar Inc.’s Perrysburg Township plant to produce 90 megawatts of solar panels to be used in two solar projects in Ontario.

The loan was announced Friday by Ohio’s Democratic U.S. senator, Sherrod Brown, and Fred Hochberg, chairman of the “Ex-Im Bank.”

The bank will provide an 18-year federally guaranteed loan so that First Solar can build two solar farms — a 50-megawatt farm to provide power to the Ontario towns of Amherstburg, Belmont, and Walpole, and a 40-megawatt farm for St. Clair.

After the solar farms are constructed, they will be purchased by alternative energy company Next­Era Energy Resources, which is part of Florida Power & Light Co.

It will run the solar farms and sell the power to the Ontario Power Authority. The Canadian utility has 20-year contracts to sell the power generated by the solar farms.

Mr. Brown said the deal will sustain the jobs of 550 workers at the local solar panel plant, which is the only domestic plant operated by First Solar of Tempe, Ariz.

The announcement was made at the Perrysburg Township facility, which employs 1,200 workers overall.

The senator said that 70 percent of clean-energy systems are made abroad, led by China and Germany. Those two countries figured out how to capture much of the market and take an early jump on alternative-energy manufacturing.

“What we’re doing today takes major steps in bringing that back to the United States of America, where we think it belongs,” Mr. Brown said.

The senator said he has authored legislation to extend a 30 percent tax credit for American manufacturers that increase capacity to supply clean-energy projects with American-made parts.

Mr. Hochberg, chairman of the “Ex-Im Bank,” which was created in 1934 to supply financing for foreign purchases of American-made exports, said the solar farm projects in Canada could not be done with the bank’s help because neither Next­Era or Ontario Power could obtain commercial loans to finance them.

“The important thing is, it’s not just the dollars, it’s not just creating exports, it’s about the jobs,” he said.

The U.S. solar industry has a $2 billion trade surplus that supports many high-paying jobs.

In 2008, the bank financed $30 million worth of solar exports. Last year that grew to $333 million, and this year it’s on target to lend $680 million, Mr. Hochberg said.

The Canadian projects are the second financing project for First Solar that the Ex-Im Bank has done this year. In July, it financed a $16 million 16½-year loan so the solar firm could build a 5-megawatt solar farm in India to be owned by Azure Power Rajasthan Pvt. Ltd. of New Delhi.

Contact Jon Chavez at: jchavez@theblade.com or 419-724-6128.



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