North Coast Solar Stocks

March 27, 2009

Ohio firm gears up for solar panel production

Filed under: FSLR — Tags: , , , , — Jason @ 1:51 pm

3/27/2009 1:51:03 PM

By Gary T. Pakulski, The Blade

TOLEDO, OHIO: One year ago, a small group of veterans of Toledo’s glass and solar-panel production industries set up shop in a former television components factory in Perrysburg.

Now, it is making plans to begin commercial production of 2 million solar panels annually.

The company, Willard & Kelsey Solar Group LLC, earned a thumbs up from Ohio Gov. Ted Strickland yesterday.

After touring the 262,000-square foot plant off State Rt. 25, Mr. Strickland predicted the firm will become a “major player” in the solar-energy components industry.

“The fact that we have a new company like this with a highly efficient product to create energy … is very exciting,” Mr. Strickland said. Ohio officials are providing a $5 million economic development loan and a $500,000 grant to the company.

Willard & Kelsey is seeking $100 million in federal stimulus money to support a proposed $1.2 billion solar-panel manufacturing park in Perrysburg that it claims will create nearly 3,700 jobs.

For now, company officials are concentrating on the existing $14 million plant.

Willard & Kelsey had hoped to launch production last year, but was delayed by the nation’s credit crisis, Perrysburg municipal officials have been told.

But executives of the company, which is one of at least four firms making solar panels in metro Toledo or researching low-cost thin-film panel production here, say they are ready to move forward.

In his first extensive public comments, Chief Executive William R. Mitchell said that trial production will begin in the coming weeks and that full-scale manufacturing will start in the next seven to eight months.

Hiring will be handled by the Wood County Department of Job and Family Services. The firm hopes to hire 400 employees by the end of 2009. The firm told the state the jobs would have an average wage of $21 an hour.

The firm’s panels, which will use low-cost technology similar to that used at a nearby factory of Arizona-based First Solar Inc. (FSLR), expects to submit the panels for certification next month to Underwriters Laboratory and other certifying organizations, Mr. Mitchell said.

He would not comment on whether the firm will be able to make panels more cheaply than First Solar, whose low-cost technology has made it one of the top producers in the world.

But Mr. Mitchell said the proprietary method used by Willard & Kelsey to chemically coat glass panels requires 70 percent less energy than the process at First Solar.

Willard & Kelsey expects to operate around the clock, Mr. Mitchell said.

The firm is in final discussions with an undisclosed prospective customer that is interested in buying all of the panels the firm can produce over the next two to three years, he added.

The Willard & Kelsey firm now employs 34 people. All, except Mr. Mitchell, are veterans of First Solar or Glasstech Inc., another Toledo company involved in the glass industry, the chief executive said. The late industrialist Harold McMaster, a pioneer in solar-panel technology, founded both First Solar and Glasstech.

Willard & Kelsey was started by Michael Cicak, a Glasstech veteran. Willard & Kelsey’s name comes from an intersection in East Toledo near where he grew up. Mr. Cicak serves as company chairman. James Appold, president of Consolidated Biscuit Co., is vice chairman. Company officials said a year ago they had $22 million from private investors.

The work of Mr. McMaster, pioneering research at the University of Toledo, and success of First Solar’s first plant in Perrysburg have earned Toledo a reputation as a leading center of low-cost solar panel technology.

Another firm, Xunlight Corp., plans to begin production in Toledo. And a unit of German solar giant Q-Cells AG has a research operation in Perrysburg.

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