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First Solar to build new manufacturing plant in northwest Ohio

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    Production takes place on a new assembly line at First Solar Inc. plant in Perrysburg Township.

    FIRST SOLAR PHOTO

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    Production takes place on a new assembly line at First Solar Inc. plant in Perrysburg Township.

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    Production takes place on a new assembly line at First Solar Inc. plant in Perrysburg Township.

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    Production takes place on a new assembly line at First Solar Inc. plant in Perrysburg Township.

    FIRST SOLAR PHOTO

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First Solar Inc. plans to build a new solar panel manufacturing facility near its North American factory complex in Perrysburg Township, a move that’s expected to create 500 jobs.

The Tempe, Ariz.-based company in an announcement Thursday said the expansion plan calls for a $400 million, 1 million-square-foot facility in Lake Township, just east of Perrysburg Township in Wood County. Construction is expected to begin mid-year and the site should be able to reach full production in late 2019, a news release said.

The company began in Toledo and has its flagship site in Perrysburg Township, the largest solar panel manufacturing facility in the U.S. First Solar also has manufacturing facilities in Malaysia and Vietnam.

“First Solar started in the Toledo area and our first manufacturing facility was in Perrysburg,” spokesman Steve Krum said. “We’re really excited to be able to bring U.S. manufacturing growth to northwest Ohio.”

The new facility will produce the company’s relatively new Series 6 solar panel, which has thin-film solar panels that are three times the size of the previous model, the Series 4. Last year the company invested $175 million into retooling its existing Perrysburg Township plant to produce the Series 6 product.

“The continued, sustained demand validates that we can make and sell more, so that’s what’s driving this decision to build an additional factory that will also make the Series 6,” Mr. Krum said.

Once the new plant is complete, First Solar will produce enough panels at its two sites to generate 1.8 gigawatts of power annually. That’s three times the 600 megawatts of annual power its panels produce now.

The company laid off 350 workers when it slowed production last year to convert to building the new Series 6, but Mr. Krum said there soon will be a need for those jobs again, and then some.

Glenn Richardson, JobsOhio managing director for advanced manufacturing, called the expansion “great news for the area.”

“While it’s always difficult to see companies have to reduce their force, it’s great to see that they were able to retool so quickly and produce components that the market is now looking at as very much in demand,” he said. “I think the 500 jobs is just a start.”

Mr. Krum said the new jobs will be a combination of professional engineers and manufacturing technicians, with an average annual salary of $60,000.

The Lake Township plant is contingent on confirmation of state and local incentive packages still under negotiation, Mr. Krum said.

First Solar’s panels are for commercial, industrial, and utility-scale use, and are used by large utility solar farms, on public buildings, and at off-grid industrial sites.

The company does not make panels for personal consumer use or on rooftops of private homes.

Nationally, solar energy is expected to more than double over the next five years, according to the Solar Energy Industries Association.

Although the 10.6 gigawatts of solar-generated capacity in 2017 was down from the record-setting 15 gigawatts in 2016, it still marked a 40 percent increase over 2015’s installation total and was the second consecutive year for double-digit increases. As of now, the industry has installed 53.3 gigawatts, enough to power 10.1 million American homes, the trade group said recently.

Ross Hopper, SEIA president and chief executive officer, said he was especially encouraged by the “increasing geographic diversity in states deploying solar, from the Southeast to the Midwest, that led to a double-digit increase in total capacity.”

Ohio ranked 29th for new solar installations in 2017, according to SEIA’s latest report.

Recent applications for new construction filed with the Ohio Power Siting Board shows solar is coming on strong in this state, with supporters pointing to Gov. John Kasich’s decision in late 2016 not to extend the controversial two-year ban on renewable energy mandates he signed into law in 2014.

Bowling Green currently has the state’s largest solar farm, with 85,000 solar panels erected across 165 acres.

But the state power board has approved plans by Hardin Solar Energy LLC to build one in Hardin County, to be known as the Hardin Solar Center, that will be seven times larger.

It also has approved plans by Blue Planet Renewable Energy LLC for a project east of Cincinnati called Hillcrest Solar I that is to be six times larger than the Bowling Green project. The board is also reviewing an application for a large project that would be in Vinton County, southeast of Columbus.

Staff writer Tom Henry contributed to this report.

Contact Sarah Elms at selms@theblade.com419-724-6103, or on Twitter @BySarahElms.

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