Convalt Energy made the news last year when it purchased SunPower’s solar panel manufacturing lines as SunPower shut down its facility in Hillsboro, Oregon. It was no small feat moving 115,000 individual pieces, 800,000 feet of cable, etc. – to be hauled in 350 truckloads from Oregon to Watertown, New York, with the intention of setting up one of the largest solar panel manufacturing plants in the US.
Last July, county officials approved a plan for Convalt to build a 300,000-square-foot module manufacturing facility, but recently the plan hit two snags. Last week, Hari Achuthan, CEO of Convalt Energy, learned at a Hounsfield planning board meeting that the town can’t move forward with the project until the company owns the land or has a lease, which could take months as the company currently has a lease to purchase. “Not a problem,” Achuthan told pv magazine. “It’s a small delay. We’ll get it done as it more of a formality.”
The greater snag is that National Grid recently handed Convalt the price tag of $19 million and a timeframe of at least two years to get power to the site. “When we heard that we told them that we’ll island our factory and we won’t need need the grid power for the approximately 4MW of load,” Achuthan said.
In a quick change of plans, Convalt bought an old building that already has power connections. To get their manufacturing process up and running quickly, they are putting two production lines in that existing building, and then will construct a new, larger second facility at the Watertown airport business park for another two production lines. Achuthan said they should be up and running with the first two lines in September or October 2022, bringing up to 200MW to market in Q1 2023. National Grid has come back with lower cost for the grid connection, but Convalt has already moved along with its new plan.
With the Biden administration’s recent extension of tariffs on imported solar cells, there’s renewed interest in stimulating US solar manufacturing. When asked about the extent to which the federal government has been involved with Convalt’s plans, Achuthan noted that they have been in conversation with them. “Key will be support from DOE for loan grants and loan guarantees and we should know in a couple of months.”
Slowed but not deterred, Convalt Energy is moving forward with plans to first get module production up and running and then to focus on wafer and cell production with hopes that they will achieve 3GW. In all, Convalt intends to create as many as 1,500 jobs, many of which will be filled by veterans retiring from nearby Fort Drum, in keeping with its vision to “Make Solar American Again”.
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