Solar plant may hire 1,000 .
Thursday's announcement that a German company will turn a high-tech white elephant into the nation's biggest solar plant is in key respects Oregon's most significant industrial development since the tech bust.Quick sale
State officials hope a new generation of Oregon technology employment will spring from the unused Hillsboro chip factory, where SolarWorld Group will invest $400 million, hiring as many as 1,000.
The publicly held company is buying the plant for $40 million -- a bargain in comparison with the $500 million spent by Japan's Komatsu Silicon America, which finished the factory in 1998 but never opened it because of forecasts of declining chip sales.
As projections soar for alternative energy demand, more solar companies are scouting the state, officials say. Solar manufacturing, ranging from silicon to wafers to cells to panels, could pick up where semiconductors leave off as chipmakers move offshore, they say.
Indeed, semiconductor workers here have skills that translate easily into solar cell manufacturing.
Only last fall, SolarWorld acquired the solar business of oil giant Royal Dutch Shell, which had taken it over from Siemens AG. The deal gave SolarWorld, founded in 1998, plants in Vancouver as well as in Camarillo, Calif.The solar cell business is growing.
Robust demand for solar panels quickly pushed SolarWorld to expand. In December, company representatives toured the 422,000-square-foot former Komatsu plant.
"It was amazing to see such a huge site in that good condition after 10 years, and to imagine that the company wasted more-or-less a half a billion dollars for just building it," said Boris Klebensberger, SolarWorld chief operating officer. "It will fit all our needs."
The plant will hold at least 1,000 workers by 2010, SolarWorld CEO Frank Asbeck said Thursday in Germany, according to The Associated Press. But Klebensberger said "some hundreds" of workers would be hired for the first phase and "several hundred" thereafter.
The Hillsboro plant will be able to produce solar silicon wafers and cells capable of generating 500 megawatts of electricity a year.
Solar industry sales have grown by about 35 percent in each of the past five years, according to the Solar Energy Industries Association. Last year, worldwide sales of photovoltaic cells and modules exceeded $15 billion as prices went up for conventionally generated energy, according to the Solar Energy Industries Association.