Calisolar Silicon Plant Lured To Mississippi

Mississippi delivered the goods, and now Calisolar says it will deliver the jobs – around 1,000 of them, producing silicon metal and polysilicon (aka, solar silicon) for sale to other manufacturers and use in its own solar products. Calisolar had been considering locating this operation at a former General Motors plant in Ohio, using a $275 million loan guarantee from the U.S. Department of Energy – but all that is now off the table.

Calisolar, which already has a plant in Ontario, Canada, said it will build a 16,000 metric ton plant in Lowndes County, Miss. A significant factor in picking Mississippi, the company said, “was the infrastructure and training-focused incentive package approved by the State Legislature” as well as “a previously approved incentive package from the Lowndes County Development Authority.” The Associated Press broke down the goodies: A $59.5 million loan for equipment and a building that would be owned by Lowndes County and leased by the company; an $11.25 million grant for infrastructure; and another $4.5 million to help train employees.

The company, after not using the loan guarantee, is trimming its existing staff by nearly a quarter as a business model shift even as it makes the Mississippi plans.

Calisolar silicon plant, Mississippi

image via Calisolar

With the solar market in a deflationary spiral – witness the fate of Evergreen Solar – Calisolar will need to make its products as cheaply as possible, and the company said it will do just that in Mississippi.  “This new facility is a major milestone for our company as we continue to fulfill our mission of becoming the lowest-cost producer of high-quality solar silicon globally,” said Sandra Beach Lin, the company’s CEO.

Calisolar claims to have a unique purification process that can transform low-quality silicon into a high-quality product suitable for use in solar applications. The use of low-quality silicon allows for lower costs, and the company’s says its process also uses a lot less energy to produce polysilicon products that are every bit as good as those made through more expensive and energy-intensive conventional processes. Equipment and construction costs are also estimated to be around one-sixth of the cost of traditional polysilicon plants.

Calisolar said the German company SMS Siemag would supply most of the equipment to be installed at the Mississippi plant, while Texas-based Zachry Holdings will engineer and build the plant, working with local Mississippi construction firms. When in operation, the plant is expected to have an annual payroll of more than $42 million. And of course building the plant itself will be a jobs booster, with 1,000 construction jobs expected during the height of construction.

Pete Danko is a writer and editor based in Portland, Oregon. His work has appeared in Breaking Energy, National Geographic's Energy Blog, The New York Times, San Francisco Chronicle and elsewhere.

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