Solar Plant_AZ_$300M_GE Solar

GE solar plant means another target for Valley

General Electric Co.’s announcement last week that it was going to build the largest solar manufacturing plant in the U.S. certainly perked up ears in the Valley.

A couple of weeks after landing a $300 million manufacturing plant for First Solar Inc. (Nasdaq:FSLR) in Mesa, GE would seem to be a natural target for Valley groups.

Members of the Greater Phoenix Economic Council wouldn’t comment either way about whether they had been in contact with GE (NYSE:GE). That’s standard, given the nondisclosure agreements floating around with site-selection firms.

The Valley makes sense for a manufacturing plant, particularly one that would put out 400 megawatts a year. The question is, where are those panels going to go?

According to the announced deal, they will be destined for large, utility-scale operations. That makes sense, as that’s been a target area for First Solar. But it will be interesting to see how GE closes the gap on First Solar, given the head start of roughly a decade the Tempe company has over its larger rival.

First Solar has contracts for more than 2 gigawatts of solar panels in the Southwest, primarily with Arizona and California utility companies. That made a location in the Southwest a good bet for the company when it was looking for new U.S. manufacturing.

GE doesn’t have that pipeline. In 2009, it announced it was closing its crystalline silicon solar panel manufacturing plant in Delaware, which at the time was the only solar panel plant owned by the company. GE could stay in the east. First Solar, after all, originally started in Ohio.

If GE opts for the Southwest, the Valley will have standard competitors Austin, Texas, and Albuquerque to deal with in luring a manufacturing plant. New Mexico has pushed hard for renewable energy and was the landing place for Schott Solar, which the Valley tried to get.

A lot has changed since 2008. The Valley now is home to a plant from one of the largest solar panel manufacturers operating (Suntech Power Holdings Co. Ltd., in Goodyear), with another from First Solar on the way.

While the GE announcement created buzz and added to solar advocates saying this was another step in bringing solar to the mainstream, some questions still linger. Eric Rosenbaum over at The Street even came up with five reasons First Solar shouldn’t worry about GE.

Read more: GE solar plant means another target for Valley | Phoenix Business Journal


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