Module manufacturer Itek bucks trend, opens new factory

With the U.S. International Trade Commission’s (USITC) recommendations on whether to impose sanctions on international module imports looming less than three weeks away, the debate about the future of module manufacturing in the United States is raging in Washington D.C.

In the other Washington, however – specifically Bellingham, Washington, one module manufacturer just cut the ribbon on a 48,000 square foot factory. And, depending on how harsh the sanctions are, Itek Energy’s decision to open the manufacturing facility within the U.S. borders will seem like pure genius.

The 150 MW factory, located at a defunct Georgia Pacific warehouse, will be state of the art, with new cutting-edge manufacturing technologies offering Itek the opportunity to produce its five-busbar solar modules, said John Flanagan, Itek’s founder. The company also said the new facility will create jobs, though no specific numbers were shared.

Itek also maintains a 60 MW plant in the city.

Expanding module manufacturing in the Northwest stands in stark contrast to recent factory closures and significant workforce reductions in Oregon, where SolarWorld has drastically cut the number of employees to around 300 from a high water mark of around 900, and SolarWorld supplier Ulbrich Solar Technologies shut its manufacturing facility down, both occurring in Hillsboro, Oregon.

SolarWorld initially said its factory could be part of a fluid merger-and-acquisition plan to sell it. But after the USITC found the company and its co-petitioner Suniva had been significantly harmed by imports from countries around the world, it announced it would be re-hiring many of the employees it has laid off.

In another blow to Oregon’s solar economy, Panasonic also recently announced an ingot plant closure in Salem, Oregon, laying off its 92 workers. All the companies reducing workforces or closing facilities have cited difficult U.S. industry conditions as the largest factors in their decisions.

Itek’s decision to locate its new factory in Washington will give it a significant advantage over other module manufacturers. With a “Made in the USA” pedigree, it will not be directly affected by the trade case. In fact, if the USITC and President Donald J. Trump decide to impose high tariffs and/or a floor for module prices as Suniva and SolarWorld have asked, Itek’s business could boom.