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San Diego
Sunday, May 19, 2024
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New Solar Panels May Be Produced Locally

A Canadian solar panel company plans to make its panels at an existing Chula Vista plant, a development that will create and retain 105 full-time jobs, according to the city.

Morgan Solar Inc., which launched in 2007 and is based in Toronto, said it has entered into a joint venture with Nypro Inc., a Massachusetts company that operates an injection plastic molding plant in the southern part of the city, to produce a new type of solar panel.

Nic Morgan, vice president of development at Morgan Solar, said the company is awaiting certification on its product from Underwriters Laboratories and international regulators, and it is still ironing out details of its arrangement with Nypro in advance of production beginning here in March or April.

While Morgan Solar has a small facility in Toronto, it selected Chula Vista for its production site because of the involvement of Nypro, and to be closer to its customer market, Morgan said.

“We want to be close to where our markets are, and California will be one of our largest markets,” said Morgan.

Another factor in moving part of its production to Chula Vista was securing a $3.3 million loan from the California Energy Commission. According to a press statement from Gov. Schwarzenegger’s office, funds for the loan program came from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act. In September, the state’s Clean Energy Business Financing Program provided eight loans using ARRA funding totaling nearly $29 million, according to the governor’s press office.

Making a Key Product

Morgan Solar, which is also providing $3.3 million of its own funds toward the panel project, is using the loan to purchase equipment to make its key product called an optical concentrator. The element is attached to a bottom of a chip contained in the panel, and results in far more efficient generation of solar powered electricity, Nic Morgan said.

The solar panel systems Morgan is making are different from most being made today and aren’t targeted at residential customers with rooftop systems but higher capacity ground systems, Morgan said.

According to the governor’s office, the project will “create and/or retain” 105 full-time jobs, a number repeated by the city of Chula Vista.

Morgan said initial jobs created from the local production line would be about 30, and the forecasted number should be reached by 2011.

According to Nypro San Diego, the local plant has 167 employees. The plant, which has been in Chula Vista since 1988, makes injection molding plastic parts used by a variety of industries.

An employee-owned company, Nypro Inc., based in Clinton, Mass., said in its latest annual report its revenue last year was $1.1 billion, down 7.9 percent from the prior year’s revenue. Nypro operates 44 locations in 15 countries, and has more than 17,000 employees, according to the firm’s Web site.

Nic Morgan said his firm got together with Nypro after the latter company initially rejected a solicitation to invest in Morgan Solar. Later, Nypro changed its mind and made what he said was a minority investment in Morgan, without disclosing the dollar amount.

A first round of venture capital funding closed in December and raised $8.2 million. The lead investor is Iberdrola Renewables SA, a Spanish renewable energy company, he said.

A Seven-Year Loan

The loan to Morgan Solar is for seven years and carries an interest rate of 2.75 percent. According to Schwarzenegger’s office, the project is expected to result in an annual capacity of 10 megawatts and should begin operating in November 2011.

Craig Ruiz, an economic development specialist with the city of Chula Vista, said Morgan Solar initially contacted the state Office of Economic Development, which put them in touch with Chula Vista. The city then worked with Morgan in applying for the loan, he said.

It is also working with Morgan Solar to obtain tax credits that come with setting up its manufacturing in an enterprise zone. In doing so, the company would get tax breaks on the equipment it purchases and for new employees it hires, Ruiz said.

Morgan Solar’s pending entrance into the San Diego region brings the total solar panel manufacturers to six, according to CleanTECH San Diego, a nonprofit group tracking the alternative energy industry.

All totaled, the San Diego region now has 181 solar energy companies, said Holly Lepre of CleanTECH San Diego.

In addition to the Morgan/Nypro joint venture, the other manufacturers are Energy Innovations Inc. in Poway; Siliken Renewable in Otay Mesa; Kyocera Solar in Kearny Mesa; Concentrix in San Diego; and Vaillant Solar Systems in Solana Beach.

In Poway last month, Energy Innovations began operations at a 60,000-square-foot plant that is also geared to churning out larger solar panel systems.

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