It started with a brochure, which made its way into the offices of the Portland Business Journal. And as confirmed by the company, SunPower will be selling the former SolarWorld factory in Hillsboro, Oregon which it bought last year, and then leasing back a portion of the factory, which Portland Business Journal put at around 200,000 square feet of the 465,000 square foot complex.
SunPower says that it will continue assembly of its P-Series modules at the portion of the factory that it will lease back from any new owners. The company only recently began production of the P-19 in Oregon, its shingle-cell module based on monocrystalline silicon cells.
Company spokesperson Natalie Wymer says that SunPower remains committed to U.S. manufacturing, and that there will be no layoffs among the 200 or so employees that are currently making the P-Series.
“The building is very large and we don’t need all that space,” Wymer told pv magazine. She also says that this sale is separate from its search for a manufacturing partner.
The news comes as SunPower is projecting its first quarterly profit in many years for the second quarter, and any revenue from the sale of the factory will doubtless add to its bottom line.
If these walls could talk…
When it was owned by SolarWorld the Hillsboro factory was at the center of trade cases which led to the imposition of anti-dumping and anti-subsidy duties on solar cells from China, and later cells from China and Taiwan as well as modules from China in 2012 and 2014. SolarWorld also joined in Suniva’s call for the Section 201 tariffs, which the Trump Administration imposed in February 2018.
SunPower appears to have used the purchase of the factory as a bargaining chip in getting an exemption for its back-contact solar products from global Section 201 tariffs imposed by the Trump Administration, so there is a particular irony to its sale of the factory now.
And while SunPower has touted the factory as its commitment to U.S. manufacturing, the estimated 200 workers that it employs to make its P-19 modules is far less than the 700 which the SolarWorld factory employed at its peak.
Meanwhile, in the wake of the Section 201 tariffs Korean and Chinese PV makers including JinkoSolar, LG and Hanwha Q Cells have built much larger factories in Florida, Alabama and Georgia.