SolarWorld lauds U.S. embrace of domestic production of solar technology as advance in national self-reliance

Hillsboro - The $725 billion Defense Authorization Act for fiscal year 2011, signed into law by President Obama on Jan. 7, contains a provision that is sure to promote the self-reliance of the United States and its special trading partners: The provision requires the Department of Defense to comply with the Buy American Act in purchasing photovoltaic solar-power technology and, in that way, reduce its dependence on energy technology and fuels from overseas.

SolarWorld, the largest and most experienced U.S. manufacturer of crystalline silicon solar panels, has long championed the energy and economic self-sufficiency that comes with domestic production of solar technologies requiring no fuels or emissions. The company's corporate vision statement expressly asserts that by promoting independence from fossil fuels and protecting the Earth's resources, solar energy "makes a contribution to avoiding military conflicts."

The company's plant in Camarillo, Calif., began manufacturing solar panels in 1977; 250 employees work there today. Production plants at the company's 100-acre campus in Hillsboro, Ore., employ another 1,000 workers. In all, the U.S. operations have an annual manufacturing capacity of 500 megawatts.

Some U.S. competitors have sited production in overseas markets that feature not only comparatively lax labor and environmental oversight but also relatively low transparency requirements. The Buy American Act limits defense purchases to products substantially manufactured in the United States or in countries with special U.S. trading partnerships or designations. The act, for example, could bar Department of Defense purchases of products substantially made in China.

"Just as solar electricity allows power users to tap sunshine exactly where they need electricity, domestic production enables nations to rely on their own manufacturing technology to generate renewable power," said Bob Beisner, managing director of SolarWorld Industries America Inc., based in Hillsboro. "This new provision promotes technology production in the United States and its special trading partner nations using operations that offer manufacturing jobs and expertise to their citizens."

SolarWorld has supplied solar panels for a number of projects on U.S. military bases. The company is providing 2.5 megawatts-peak worth of panels for installations at historic properties in Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, for example, and it supplied 1.2 MW for a 2009 project at Buckley Air Force Base in Colorado.

Conversely, the U.S. government has supported the company's efforts to create jobs in Hillsboro. In January, the government granted $82.2 million in renewable-energy manufacturing tax credits for the expansion - the largest for a conventional solar-panel manufacturer among $2.3 billion in awards.

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