First Solar to Build Panel Factory in Ohio

First Solar will invest $680 million for a new plant in Ohio. The project is expected to add 500 jobs.

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A U.S. solar company will build a new factory in Ohio, providing a boost to Biden.

A solar farm in Fayetteville, N.C. President Biden wants to eliminate greenhouse gas emissions from the electric grid by 2035.Credit…Jeremy M. Lange for The New York Times

June 9, 2021, 12:57 p.m. ET

One of the nation’s biggest solar-energy companies said on Wednesday that it would double production in the United States by opening a third plant in Ohio by the middle of 2023.

The company, First Solar, said it would invest $680 million to build a new plant in Lake Township, Ohio, which is about an hour south of Cleveland, where it already has a plant. The project is expected to add 500 jobs to the company’s roster of 1,600 employees in the United States.

“We have said that we stand ready to support President Biden’s goal to transition America to a clean, energy-secure future, and our decision to more than double our U.S. manufacturing capacity with this new facility is First Solar making good on that commitment,” Mark Widmar, the company’s chief executive, said in a statement. “This facility will represent a significant leap forward in photovoltaics manufacturing, a true factory of the future.”

Mr. Biden wants to eliminate greenhouse gas emissions from the electric grid by 2035, an ambitious goal that would involve remaking the energy industry. The president has promised that the transition to cleaner energy would create millions of new jobs, a claim that some critics have said is far-fetched.

Over the last decade or so, most solar panel manufacturing has moved to China and other Asian countries where labor costs tend to be a lot lower than in the United States. That has been frustrating to Democratic lawmakers who have embraced solar power but also want more domestic manufacturing jobs.

But First Solar, which is based in Tempe, Ariz., and a couple of other companies have in recent years expanded production in the United States. In 2019, the Korean company Hanwha Q CELLS opened a plant in Dalton, Ga., and the Chinese firm JinkoSolar opened a factory in Jacksonville, Fla.

In addition to the operations in Lake Township, First Solar also has a plant in the Toledo area. The company’s panels are different from the more widely used silicon crystalline models. First Solar’s panels are made from a thin film silicon material and are typically used in large solar farms that supply power directly to the electric grid rather than on residential rooftops.

First Solar said its new plant should help it further reduce costs and allow American-made panels to compete more effectively with those produced in China. A sharp drop in the cost of solar panels over the last 10 years has made them one of the least expensive ways to generate electricity, far cheaper in some cases than power plants that burn coal and natural gas.

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