SolarWorld supplier shutters Oregon factory

It seems inevitable. Ulbrich Solar Technologies, a longtime supplier of copper-based PV solar components, had tied its Oregon manufacturing plant tightly to its biggest customer in the area, SolarWorld USA. In fact, the companies’ two production facilities were located on the same road, less than a mile and a half from each other.

Now, a month after SolarWorld laid off nearly half its employees at its factory, Ulbrich is closing its factory completely, laying off its last 16 employees. The Ulbrich solar wire plant began its Oregon operations in 2011. In the press release announcing the closure, Ulbrich cited fierce competition from foreign module manufacturers, which it says has hurt the company’s main customers, as the reason for the closure.

“Ulbrich is grateful for the countless contributions Hillsboro-based employees made to strengthen the company’s excellent reputation,” the release said.

Despite the Hillsboro closing, Ulbrich itself is not finished. It will continue operations at the company’s U.S. headquarters in in Westminster, S.C. and Müllendorf, Austria.

Intense international competition in the module market has been the subject of much debate in the solar industry recently, as a Section 201 trade petition makes its way through the U.S. International Trade Commission’s (USITC). SolarWorld is a party to the petition, which was initially filed by bankrupt module manufacturer Suniva in May.

Initially, SolarWorld, which has its own history of fighting foreign competition with trade actions, was cool to the Section 201 case, but joined forces with Suniva by the end of May.

The USITC will hold a hearing on Tuesday to hear testimony on the specifics of the complaint, which has sparked a firestorm of controversy throughout the industry. After the hearing, the USITC will announce its decision on whether sanctions should be levied on foreign module manufacturers on Sept. 22, and a final report with its recommendations will be sent to President Donald J. Trump on Nov. 13.