In the crazy mixed up world of Bidenomics, clean power is a job-creating dynamo that has touched off a long-delayed US manufacturing boom of historic proportions from coast to coast. The latest example is a new 2-gigawatt solar cell factory that was originally supposed to be built in Germany. Instead, the new destination for the factory and its 350 direct jobs is Colorado Springs, Colorado, and the company behind the switcheroo is not shy about crediting Bidenomics.
Bidenomics Wins A New Solar Cell Factory
CleanTechnica visited Germany earlier this month on a cleantech tour, and the undercurrent of fandom for Bidenomics was hard to miss. The Inflation Reduction Act championed by President Joe Biden kept coming up in conversation. It is viewed as a high bar-setter for supporting rapid growth in the cleantech sector. European manufacturers feel like they are eating dust, at least for the time being.
Colorado’s new solar cell factory is a case in point. The developer, Switzerland-based Meyer Burger, also has expansion plans in the works for its factory at the Thalheim site in Bitterfeld-Wolfen, Germany. However, the right public policies apparently failed to come through at the right time.
“A multi-gigawatt expansion in Thalheim is planned at a later stage as part of Meyer Burger’s successful application for the EU Innovation Fund,” the company explained in a press release, in an apparent poke at EU policy makers.
“Our presence in the U.S. will enable us to reach existing and future customers more quickly. I would like to sincerely thank our partners in the Biden administration and in Colorado as well as our offtake partners DESRI, Ingka and BayWa for their support,” added Gunter Erfurt, who is the CEO of Meyer Burger.
“Favorable market conditions by ensuring a fair level playing field for European solar manufacturers through continued industry and market policy support in the EU are a prerequisite for such investments,” Meyer Burger emphasized.
Efurt gave the knife another twist, stating that the company “would be pleased to lay the foundation for a transatlantic solar energy partnership and also expand our manufacturing in Germany and the European Union in the future.”
If Meyer Burger seems a little hot under the collar, that’s because the company is eager to deploy its leverage in the solar cell manufacturing equipment industry. Among the company’s claims to PV equipment fame are the standard-setting PERC solar cell architecture and the introduction of a diamond-wire saw for solar wafers (see more CleanTechnica coverage here).
US Supply Chain Support For New Solar Cell Factory
The Governor of Colorado, Jared Polis, was also not shy about crediting IRA benefits for luring Meyer Burger’s new solar cell factory to Colorado, along with its own home grown assets.
“The availability of an existing facility, access to talent and the state’s commitment to renewable energy all factored into the company’s decision, along with the strong local supply chain,” the Office of Colorado Governor Jared Polis points out.
“More than 80% of the purchasing volume for the company’s German production plant came from local suppliers, and a similar commitment will be in place in Colorado Springs,” they add.
Those suppliers better start scouting expansion plans. Meyer Burger anticipates 350 direct jobs in Colorado Springs from the new solar cell factory, and that’s just for starters. Meyer Burger describes the 2-gigawatt facility as a first step leading to a swift ramp-up in capacity in the US, either in Colorado or elsewhere.
A (Speedy) New Solar Cell Factory For Colorado
Perhaps in recognition that US energy policy can spin on a dime, Meyer Burger aims to take full advantage of factory-friendly provisions in the IRA before the all-important presidential election cycle of 2024.
The company has already given itself a head start by signing on to a long-term lease at a former Intel semiconductor fabrication plant in Colorado Springs, which shut down in 2007. The Colorado Springs Gazette reports that Meyer Burger settled on a brownfields site due to the need for speed and the facility’s suitability for high-tech production.
Diverting equipment from Thalheim to Colorado Springs is also part of the revved-up manufacturing plan, which calls for production to begin in the 4th quarter of 2024.
The IRA’s stick-and-carrot approach is clearly apparent in the Meyer Burger move. The IRA’s domestic manufacturing requirement stands at 40%, making it imperative for the company to expand its footprint in the US to keep its solar module factory in Arizona humming along.
Meyer Burger also refers to a recent Treasury Department decision that allows an additional 10% bonus investment tax credit for solar projects in the US. All together, the company anticipates $1.4 billion in tax credits from the start of production to 2032.
“Those credits are available through the Inflation Reduction Act that was signed into law in August 2022 by President Joe Biden; the legislation included support for the Biden administration’s goal of creating what it calls ‘a global clean energy economy,'” remarked the Gazette.
Beyond the IRA tax credits, Meyer Burger is also raking in an incentive package of almost $90 million from Colorado Springs and the State of Colorado.
Nobody Expects … Solyndra!
According to multiple reports, Meyer Burger is also getting a $300 million loan from the US Department of Energy, though nothing has popped up on the agency’s website yet. Drop us a note in the comment thread if you know anything about that.
CleanTechnica is reaching out to Meyer Burger for more information about the loan. If the funding does materialize, it would be deliciously ironic for the Energy Department’s Loan Programs Office to have a say in the matter.
The LPO was established under the Republican administration of George W. Bush administration, through the Energy Policy Act of 2005. The aim of the Energy Policy Act was to give all aspects of the domestic energy sector a shot of 21st century technology adrenaline, with new solar cell technology front and center.
The office was up and running by 2007 and the US solar cell startup Solyndra was among the first to apply for a loan that year. That was during the Republican administration of President George W. Bush, for those of you keeping score at home. The wheels turned slowly and Solyndra’s loan application was finally approved in 2009, during the Democratic administration of President Barack Obama.
By 2011, Solyndra sputtered into bankruptcy, done in by competition from overseas. The debacle provided ample ammunition for Republican critics of President Obama (see more CleanTechnica coverage here). However, Solyndra was just one piece of an overall portfolio engineered to absorb risk, with Tesla among its success stories. By 2014, LPO was back in black, but to nobody’s surprise, former Republican President Donald Trump all but shuttered the office during his first and only term in office.
Democratic President Joe Biden revived the LPO last year. It started off with a bang, making a loan to the tune of $2.5 billion for GM and LG Energy Solution to launch their Ultium EV battery manufacturing plans last year along with funding for the ACES clean hydrogen and energy storage project in Utah. From that perspective, a $300 million loan for a new solar cell factory is a drop in the bucket.
As for Bidenomics, that may sound like a slur promulgated by right-wing wags at first glance. However, the Biden administration itself has been credited with coining the term. It refers to a three-part economic plan intended as a sharp contrast to the Republican-favored “trickle-down” theory that has supported Republican economic policies for 50 years.
The new solar cell factory is a piece of Bidenomics, which counts that “targeted public investment” as one of its three key pillars, including targeted public investment in the key areas of infrastructure, semiconductors, clean energy, and climate security, among others.
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Photo: New solar cell factory coming to Colorado, to supply domestic components for Meyer Burger’s PV module factory in Arizona (photo courtesy of Meyer Burger).
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