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October 18, 2008

Solar cell maker opens Oregon plant

State's energy tax credit attracts German manufacturer

Mary Hudetz
Associated Press
October 18, 2008

HILLSBORO, Ore. – In the thick of Oregon's "silicon forest" and far from his home in Germany, SolarWorld founder Frank Asbeck walked through his company's newest plant Friday with the excitement of a child in a toy factory.

"This is like my playing field," said the 49-year-old Asbeck as he walked down a quarter-mile-long corridor and passed machines converting chunks of silicon into crystals. "Our parents didn't buy us enough toys when we were little."

The $440 million plant, which opened its doors Friday, covers 480,000 square feet. SolarWorld, with headquarters in Bonn, says the plant will make the company North America's largest solar cell manufacturer.

By 2011, the Hillsboro facility is expected to make enough cells to generate 500 megawatts of electricity a year, about as much as many coal- or natural gas-fired plants.

Oregon has become an attractive site for renewable energy companies largely because of the state's Business Energy Tax Credit, often pronounced "Betsy" for its abbreviation, BETC.

So far, it has provided $20 million in tax credits for SolarWorld, said Michael Grainey, director of the state's energy department.

The Legislature in 2007 made solar energy manufacturers eligible for the credit, Grainey said.
Gov. Ted Kulongoski, who toured the plant Friday, called the tax credit a "short-term investment" for the state that will create 2,000 high-wage jobs while other manufacturing plants cut back and the nation struggles through a steep economic downturn.

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