In 2007, French President Nicolas Sarkozy established Grenelle Environnement, a program promoting renewable energy sources, including hydraulic, wind, biomass, geothermal, photovoltaic cells and solar energy.
To the solar energy segment of that charge, EDF Energies Nouvelles, which is half owned by the French government, and First Solar Inc., which has headquarters in Tempe, Ariz., said they would build a facility in France to manufacture solar panels.
A news release from the companies said the plant would have an initial annual capacity of more than 100 Megawatt Peak. Full production is expected by the second half of 2011 with a staff of more than 300.
EDF EN Chairman Paris Mouratoglou, in the release, said the agreement supports the utility's goal of installing a capacity of 500Mwp by 2012. EDF EN has raised more than $710 million to finance expansion of the photovoltaic sector.
The companies said a site location would be determined in the next few months. It will be built in France at an investment of more than $128 million. EDF EN will finance half the capital expense and receive the plant's entire output for at least 10 years.
First Solar's manufacturing site will include a facility for recycling solar panels, Europe's only solar panel recycling plant outside of Germany.
The announcement marks First Solar's first move into France. In addition to its U.S. operations, the company has concerns in Malaysia and Germany, where company facilities generate 192 megawatts of power.
"The decision to invest in France reflects our firm belief in the French market and its great potential," First Solar Chief Executive Officer Mike Ahearn said in the release. "It represents a vote of confidence in the policies being developed by the French government since the Grenelle de l'Environnement to promote renewable energies and allow solar electricity to compete economically with other forms of energy."
He added that long-term commitments by French officials regarding policy and regulatory issues and of EDF EN to invest in developing and expanding the French market were key factors in First Solar's decision to invest in France.
"This agreement represents a key milestone in the strategy of our group, which has the ambition to be a global leader in solar energy," Mouratoglou said. "Securing a competitive supply is essential for us to participate in the development of a large French solar market."
French Sustainable Development Minister Jean-Louis Borloo was on hand for the companies' announcement and stated: "I salute the decision of EDF Energies Nouvelles and First Solar to invest and create jobs in France's solar sector, which has begun to take off since the Grenelle de l'Environnement. This investment represents a veritable turning point for the photovoltaic industry and confirms that France is more than ever in a position to play a leading role globally."