Solar Crunch Hits GE; Colorado Plant On Hold

Demonstrating just what a tough time this is for solar manufacturing – whether you got guaranteed loans or not – GE said Tuesday that construction of a 400 megawatt thin-film plant in Colorado was on hold for 18 months.

GE had announced back in April 2011, after it completed the acquisition of thin-film company PrimeStar Solar, that it intended to go big with cadmium-telluride (CdTe) panels that would compete with the category leader, First Solar. Then in October it pegged Aurora, Colo., as the site of what was envisioned to be the largest solar plant in the United States.

GE thin film

image via GE

Since then, however, massive excess capacity has led to solar module prices cratering, and Forbes said Tuesday afternoon that GE confirmed rumors that it had suspended work on the Aurora plant.

A company representative told GigaOm that it would pause to focus on enhancing the efficiency of its solar panels in order to produce a competitive product.

“We are banking on the fact that with the technology improvement and our investment in technology today, we will put out more competitive products coming out of that factory,” said Danielle Merfeld, general manager of solar technology at GE.

Last year’s announcement by GE to build a big solar factory had set off quite the competition to land the plant, according to Colorado Energy News. Ten states reportedly vied for the plant. Colorado won because it had a technology head start and a facility that could quickly be turned into a factory, said Victor Abate, head of GE’s renewable-energy business. GE had said the new Aurora plant would employ 400 workers.

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.