City Investment in Solar Plant Paying Off

SunPower manufacturers 500,000th panel

SunPower produces 500,000th panelThere have been plenty of stories in recent years about big solar companies collapsing and burying piles of borrowed public money under their wreckage. This is not one of those stories.

When the city of Milpitas, Calif. scrambled to put together a $1.5 million three-year loan for solar manufacturer SunPower in 2010, it was enough to lure the 25-year-old company to set up a major manufacturing facility in the city. And Milpitas leaders have not regretted the decision.

Yesterday, SunPower announced that its Milpitas factory, managed by Fextronics, produced its 500,000th solar panel.

The plant employs more than 100 people and produces 80 to 90 megawatts of solar panels a year, according to a release from the company.

"With this U.S. manufacturing facility, and others like it around the globe, SunPower delivers our high efficiency, most reliable solar panels close to growing markets," said Marty Neese, SunPower COO.

California is certainly a growing market, having more solar than any other state and more than most countries.

When Milpitas won the solar plant, it was competing against several other interested parties, including cities in Arizona and SunPower’s corporate headquarters of San Jose, Calif., which had enterprise zones that made the San Francisco Bay Area location particularly attractive.

But Milpitas, also in the Bay Area, worked quickly to overcome its disadvantages, according to a Silicon Valley Business Journal report from 2010. The loan made Milpitas competitive and enabled the city to fill empty manufacturing space at the Flextronics campus.

Once the deal was made, SunPower wasted no time bringing the plant online.

“The Flextronics team quickly brought this plant on-line, with full production less than four months after the first panel was produced,” Neese stated. “The integrity that these workers continually demonstrate has created a quality workforce that delivers SunPower's premium product."

The plant, originally expected to produce just 75 megawatts worth of panels a year, manufactures 128-cell E-series modules for utility-scale solar projects and 96-cell panels for commercial and residential use.

The E-series is SunPower’s most efficient, powerful and popular line of solar panels.

"Today's milestone is a great accomplishment for both companies," Jeannine Sargent, Flextronics Energy President, added. "Flextronics is extremely proud to help SunPower in its goal to manufacture clean, renewable solar energy for local customers in Silicon Valley, surrounding communities and throughout the U.S."