New solar plant in Denver
General Electric Co. selected Colorado as the site for a new solar-panel plant that will be the biggest in the country, bringing 355 jobs to the Denver suburb of Aurora.
The new plant, which was announced in April, will be up and running a year earlier than projected with the first panels coming off the line next year and being commercially available in 2013. The plant will make enough photovoltaic panels annually to generate power for 80,000 U.S. homes, or about 400 megawatts.
GE plans to invest about $300 million in the facility, bringing its investment in its solar business to about $600 million.
The world’s leading maker of gas turbines, GE has been expanding its renewable-energy businesses as it seeks new revenue streams in its energy business. The company became the world’s second-biggest maker of wind turbines in less than a decade of purchasing Enron Corp.’s wind business in 2002. It seeks to grow its solar business in a similar fashion.
“We want this to be a multibillion segment in GE,” Victor Abate, who leads GE’s renewable-energy business, said in an interview. “It’s going to be a build-out cycle over the next several years.”
GE received no incentives from the federal government for the project, Abate said. State incentives were focused on job training and construction amounting to under $15 million.
GE selected Colorado from 10 states that jockeyed to win the business. New York lost out in the final round. GE said it will create 100 new “high-tech” positions at its research facilities in upstate New York.
SolarWorld AG of Germany currently operates the largest solar-panel manufacturing plant in the U.S., a Hillsboro, Ore., facility that produces panels capable of generating about 350 megawatts annually. GE’s panels will be based on a different technology.
In 2007, GE purchased a minority stake in solar start-up PrimeStar Solar, which had thin-film solar panel technology. GE eventually acquired the company in its entirety. The National Renewable Energy Laboratory, part of the U.S. Energy Department, has given a 12.8% efficiency rating to the thin-film solar panels produced by PrimeStar, a record for the technology. Some conventional solar panels are more efficient at converting sunlight to electricity. But GE contends its technology is less costly, and it said it expects to improve the performance.
“What we have been doing over the past decade is tracking all the technologies in solar and assessing which ones can get to the lowest cost of electricity,” Abate said. “The cost of solar needed to come down and that is what has been happening.”
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