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Solar manufacturer Schott escapes economic woes

Post Time:Nov 24,2008Classify:Company NewsView:374

Welding torches are sparking, power tools are revving and fork lifts are jockeying for space inside Schott Solar´s new manufacturing plant, giving no indication the company has felt any effects of the global economy´s downward spiral.

Schott is building what will be the company´s largest manufacturing plant in the United States on a parcel of desert south of the city. The 250,000-square-foot plant will be the company´s North American production hub for photovoltaic panels and receivers for solar thermal power plants.

Zane Rakes, the plant´s director of operations, said Schott has been blessed in that its plans have not been affected by the economy and it has avoided the credit crunch that has left many companies with expansion plans in a bind.

"A lot of the stuff we´re doing here is supporting projects that were already planned and funded. Our project is totally funded by Schott so we´re not relying on other sources of funding," Rakes said. "We´re in a pretty rare spot."

While other companies lay off workers and prepare for belt-tightening, Rakes said Schott is right on schedule with hiring its workforce and building the plant, which is expected to be complete in the spring.

Each of the two cavernous metal buildings that make up the plant stretch for hundreds of feet. They will soon be filled with high-tech automated machines that will help turn special glass, aluminum and solar cells into photovoltaic panels.

The process will take about a couple of hours for the panels, but making the utility-grade receivers - made of glass tubing, steel and other raw materials - will take longer since the process is more complex.

Most of those people will be highly trained technicians. Schott already has hired more than 100 people, and about half of them are technicians.

Rakes said the lead technicians are currently being trained in Germany, Spain and the Czech Republic. Those workers will return to Albuquerque to train the rest of the crew.

Albuquerque Mayor Martin Chavez said Schott´s success will be a great boon to the city and will help propel it as a center for renewable energy development. A few other solar manufacturers already call Albuquerque home, and Chavez said two more are considering relocating to the city.

"That´s part of my vision for Albuquerque, to have us be the solar capital of the country," the mayor said.

He said he thinks it´s possible given New Mexico´s sunshine and scientific expertise.

Industry experts said growing interest in renewable energy along with an eight-year investment tax credit passed by Congress in October are expected to help the solar industry ride out the shaky economy and tight credit market.

Monique Hanis, a spokeswoman for the Solar Energy Industries Association, said the tax credit signaled a stable policy in the U.S. when it comes to renewables and more companies have announced expansion plans, partnerships and contracts.

"There is a concern that there will be maybe not as fast of a growth rate that we would have seen had we not hit this economic crisis, but in general the industry is poised for growth," she said.

A study done for SEIA estimated extending the investment tax credit would create 440,000 permanent jobs and unleash $325 billion in private investment in the solar industry.

Schott is investing $100 million in its Albuquerque plant and has visions of eventually quadrupling its operation to reach 1,500 jobs and $500 million in investment. Rakes said the company is currently studying the prospects of future expansion and said the tax credit will be an important consideration.

"I think that´s the engine that´s going to drive a lot of the development and growth, not only for us but for others as well," Rakes said.

Source: Schott SolarAuthor: shangyi

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