The great State of Mississippi has been languishing at the bottom of the US solar jobs heap, but that’s going to change practically overnight thanks to a company we’ve never heard of before. China’s Seraphim Solar Manufacturing USA has just announced that it is cranking up trial operations for a new photovoltaics manufacturing plant in Jackson, which will produce at least 300 megawatts worth of solar modules per year just for starters.
To be clear, Mississippi is last in the US when it comes to installed solar capacity, and unless something changes all those new solar panels will probably be heading elsewhere. However, the new factory does represent a dramatic new beginning for solar jobs in the state.
A Long Way To Go For Mississippi Solar Jobs
As of last year, the Solar Foundation ranked Mississippi 44th in the nation for total solar job creation, with 400 solar jobs. The low end of the Solar Foundation’s top 20 solar job creators last year was Oregon with 2,100. The #2 state was Massachusetts with 9,400. California at #1 was the outlier, with 54,690 jobs.
In terms of solar jobs directly related to installation, The Solar Energy Industry Association (SEIA) also paints a rather gloomy picture of the current state of affairs. According to SEI, in 2014 Mississippi ranked dead last for new installed solar capacity, at zero. Total installations as of 2104 added up to only one megawatt, putting the state 47th in the category of total installed solar capacity.
Mississippi Solar Jobs On The March
Well, that was then, this is now. Just last April, the electric utility Mississippi Power announced that it was hooking up with North Carolina’s Strata Solar and Georgia’s Hannah Solar to build two utility-scale solar farms for a total of 53 megawatts. Pending approval, the two solar projects should be up and running by the end of next year.
The Hannah project also pairs the utility with the US Navy, which will get an up to 4 megawatt solar array at its Naval Construction Battalion Center Gulfport.
The figure of 53 megawatts looks great compared to last year’s showing, but by way of comparison the last time the Energy Department’s National Renewable Energy Laboratory looked at solar potential in Mississippi, the figure for rural utility-scale solar potential was 2,880 gigawatts. The lab also came up with another 18 gigawatts for urban utility-scale solar and 7 gigawatts for rooftop solar. It’s going to be a long row to hoe before solar penetration catches up to the state’s potential.
250 Jobs For A Solar Panel Manufacturing Plant
The new Seraphim solar panel plant may or may not push things along in terms of installed capacity, but in terms of overall solar jobs creation it will have a huge impact, with an anticipated 250 jobs piling on to the 2014 figure of 400.
The state still has a long way to go to crack the Solar Foundation’s top 20 solar job states for 2014 but all else being equal the new factory at least will boost Mississippi over neighboring state Alabama and other states in the three-digit range.
Seraphim is certainly moving things along at a rapid clip. Seraphim was still putting the finishing touches on its deal with the City of Jackson as of early July, and in last week’s announcement the company let it be known that the new facility is on track to begin trial operations, with “formal” operations slated for a November start.
How’d they do that so fast? Seraphim states that it has “the most intelligent automated production line in the industry” and local reports also referenced the re-purposing of an existing building. We’re guessing that the company has been leveraging its extensive semiconductor industry experience to get things up and running on the double quick.
And yes, the company anticipates beginning with a minimum of 300 megawatts per year, ramping up to 1 gigawatt within the next three years.
Fingers Crossed For Mississippi
That’s if all goes well. While Seraphim has rapidly established itself as a key player in the global solar industry, success in Mississippi is not a foregone conclusion. According to Mississippi Business Journal, the state’s solar manufacturing track record is just as spotty as its record on solar jobs and installed solar capacity:
…Solar panel maker Twin Creeks went out of business in Senatobia after receiving $27.7 million in aid but creating few jobs. The state loaned Stion $75 million to set up a factory in Hattiesburg, but the company is far from reaching the $400 million investment and 1,000 employees it promised in 2011. Stion, which is also getting property tax breaks worth more than $1.5 million a year, notified the state in April that it was laying off 30 people.
On the other hand, between the Seraphim factory and the Mississippi Power solar projects, this all has the makings of a more promising new era for the state’s solar industry. Earlier this year another major electric utility, Entergy Mississippi, also jumped into the fray by announcing three new solar projects totaling 1,500 kilowatts. If this keeps up our sister site PlanetSave will have much more to write about than flooding on the Mississippi River.
Other good reasons to be optimistic about Mississippi’s solar future are the apparent death spiral of the Kemper “clean coal” plant, and this summer’s solar policy switcheroo in nearby Georgia, which made that state the first in the southeast to explicitly permit third-party solar ownership. With the solar industry also trending up in North Carolina and Georgia, it’s likely the business community in Mississippi will lobby to get in on the good stuff, too.
Image Credit (screenshot): via Seraphim Energy.