Ontario local PV manufacturing provision attracts new Uni-Solar plant

Ontario local PV manufacturing provision attracts new Uni-Solar plantOntario was a bonanza for international solar developers with a generous feed-in tariff under its Renewable Energy Standard Offer Program (RESOP), which led to one of the world’s two largest solar farms, First Solar’s (Nasdaq: FSLR) 80-megawatt Sarnia solar farm being developed there. But then, Ontario changed the rules, only allowing solar manufactured locally to reap the riches offered through the incentive program. To meet that requirement, companies like Energy Conversion Devices, owners of Uni-Solar thin-film photovoltaics, are starting to manufacture solar modules in the Canadian province.

This week, Uni-Solar, a Michigan-based company, said it would locate a new manufacturing plant in LaSalle, Ontario, to take advantage of the province’s feed-in tariff program, which can be as high as 80 cents per kilowatt hour produced for roof-mounted photovoltaics. The company makes flexible laminate modules that can basically be placed directly on a rooftop. They’re uniquely suited to such installations, as well as Ontario’s sunlight.

“I’m pleased to welcome United Solar and 80 new jobs to Ontario,” Sandra Pupatello, minister of economic development & trade for Windsor West, said in a press release. “The fact that United Solar is establishing their first Canadian manufacturing facility in Windsor-Essex, Ontario, speaks to our competitive business environment, skilled workforce and green energy plan.”

“Uni-Solar products perform well in low-light and diffuse-light situations, which is why we have the highest yield in the industry. Moreover, Ontario has a lot of low load-bearing rooftops on warehouses that are perfect for our product,” said Michael Schostak, head of investor relations at Uni-Solar.

The new facility will have an annual production capacity of 15 megawatts. It can be expanded up to 30 megawatts of production if needed.

“The products will be geared solely for the Ontario market,” Schostak said.

The company will locate the new manufacturing facility in an existing building that had been vacant for four years, according to Schostak.

“The building is in pretty good shape, and we will be using a lot of internal labor for the retrofit, personalization, and equipment transfer process,” he said. So during the retrofit phase, it won’t create many new jobs. But it will create roughly 80 manufacturing jobs.

Part of the reason for Uni-Solar opening up this manufacturing plant is its proximity to the company’s Michigan location.

“It’s just across the river,” Schostak said.

And the company isn’t investing much in new manufacturing equipment.

“We are moving capital equipment from our Auburn Hills, Mich., facility across the river,” he said.

Since Uni-Solar is using existing equipment, it’s reducing the cost of the new manufacturing plant significantly. The company said it will spend $4 million on retrofitting.

“This is another demonstration that Ontario’s clean energy economy continues to grow,” said Brad Duguid, Ontario Minister of Energy. “Projects like United Solar’s are helping build our clean energy economy, creating good jobs, powering our homes and helping clean up the air we breathe.”

The plant will have an initial annualized capacity of 15 megawatts (equal to providing solar power to 4,000 homes with a carbon offset of more than 5,000 metric tons per year), but will be designed with the ability to quickly ramp to 30 megawatts once higher market demand is established.

Image courtesy of Uni-Solar.