Solar module plant to create 100s of local jobsCanada
There were no solar modules on the vacant factory’s roof to collect energy from Wednesday morning’s searing sun, but soon Canadian Solar Inc. and its subsidiary, Kitchener-based Canadian Solar Solutions Inc., will soon be manufacturing those devices inside a sprawling, west-end Guelph facility.
Canadian Solar, one of the 10 largest makers of solar energy modules in the world, announced Wednesday that a large facility at 545 Speedvale Ave. W. will
become its first Canadian plant.
The approximately 160,000 square foot building was formerly occupied by Foseco, a metallurgical chemicals company. It had been vacant for about two years.
When fully operational the plant will have the capacity to produce the equivalent of 200 megawatts of solar modules each year and will employ as many as 500 people.
Fully operational could come sooner than company officials originally planned, given the sharp increase in demand for solar energy modules in Ontario. The first modules are expected to be shipped from the facility by the end of this year.
Canadian Solar president Shawn Qu was joined by Ontario Minister of Energy and Infrastructure Brad Duguid, along with local politicians, city officials and dignitaries for the announcement at the factory location Wednesday morning.
Qu said during the announcement that Ontario is demonstrating an “exemplary commitment to renewable energy” through the Green Energy Act and that Guelph is “making sustainability the hallmark of their community” through the Community Energy Initiative.
For those reasons, the province and Guelph were a strong fit for Canadian Solar’s first Canadian plant, he said. According to a city official, there were no direct municipal incentives offered to the company.
Canadian Solar’s revenue has climbed from $3 million in 2002, said Qu, to $600 million in 2009. The company has seven manufacturing facilities and employs roughly 8,000 worldwide. The Guelph facility will be one of the largest producers of solar modules in North America.
“(T)he landmark Green Energy Act is boosting investment in renewable energy projects and increasing conservation, creating green jobs and economic growth in Ontario,” Qu said.
Solar will improve energy security and energy independence, and will “help mankind to save the environment and combat climate change,” he told the gathering.
Milfred Hammerbacher, president of Canadian Solar Solutions, will oversee the transformation and operation of the facility. He said production equipment could be moved into the factory as early as October. Refurbishing of the building is underway.
“In this building there will be two, 100 MW lines,” said Hammerbacher. “Initially we were going to do it in phases, but the opportunity has increased so much that we are going to build them simultaneously.”
It will take several months to reach full capacity, but Hammerbacher said peak production should be reached by the spring.
“We already have over 200 MW of projects that are approved by the Ontario government and need to be put in the ground by next year,” said Hammerbacher. “So essentially, you could almost say we are sold out before we build our factory, for next year.”
The facility will be highly automated and will require skilled machine operators, technicians, maintenance people and office staff to operate.
“We’ve got a lot of hiring to do,” Hammerbacher said. “I would expect that almost all of them will come out of this community.”
The building is ideal for the company’s manufacturing purposes, Hammerbacher said, and it fulfills an environment-conscious mandate to use an existing building as opposed to building a new one.
Guelph Mayor Karen Farbridge said the establishment of the Canadian Solar plant represents a turning point for manufacturing in Guelph, and is exactly the kind of green industry city officials have been talking about and courting for some time.
Over 50 years ago, she said, General Electric opened a large power transformer plant in the city and contributed to the building of Ontario’s electrical infrastructure.
“Times change, and we are moving into a new renewable future,” Farbridge said. “In today’s context, Canadian Solar’s announcement is no less significant, for they will be part of building the electrical infrastructure of the future.”
“By making sustainability the hallmark of Guelph’s future, we will attract the jobs and investments we need to thrive as a community,” she said.
Canadian Solar, which currently manufactures solar modules in China, is eager to make products in Ontario to take advantage of the Ontario Power Authority Feed-in Tariff (FIT) program and other initiatives under the province’s groundbreaking Green Energy Act. Under the FIT program, up to 60 per cent of renewable energy components will have to be made in Ontario.
The energy production landscape in the province is shifting rapidly towards renewable energy, officials said, and the FIT program, which pays producers to feed energy back into the provincial grid, has proven overwhelmingly popular.
Duguid welcomed Canadian Solar to Ontario and to Guelph on behalf of the government of Premier Dalton McGuinty. He thanked the company for its commitment to invest in Ontario’s green energy economy, and for “the huge vote of confidence” the company has given to the Green Energy Act.
“A number of years ago our premier was determined to ensure that Ontario no longer continued to pollute our air and impact our health through the use of dirty, coal-fired power,” Duguid said. “His goal was to make Ontario a world leader in green energy development, manufacturing and expertise.”
The province’s commitment to eliminate the use of coal, he added, is considered the single largest climate change initiative in North America. Ontario is open to green energy business, he said.
“Canadian Solar’s announcement here this morning is more evidence that our premier’s vision of making Ontario a world leader in green energy economy is indeed becoming a reality,” Duguid added.
Valeriote said he is pleased Canadian Solar is now part of local industry in Guelph. But he was critical of the federal government following the announcement.
“I noted their absence, and it seems that they’re not interested in investing in initiatives that will reduce our dependency on non-renewable resources like oil,” he said. “I think they should have been at the table, and they should have invested in this initiative. These are jobs of the future that they are not that keen in investing in.”
Hammerbacher was asked to comment on recent developments surrounding Canadian Solar, particularly the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) investigation into certain sales transactions in 2009, and a class-action lawsuit that was recently filed in the United States on behalf of purchasers of Canadian Solar securities between May 26, 2009 and June 1, 2010.
The complaint alleges that false and/or misleading statements were made about the company’s financial results, and alleges that adverse facts about the company’s business, operations and prospects were not disclosed.
Hammerbacher said the company is “going ahead full steam, business as usual,” and will await the opinion of the SEC.
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