First Solar builds second plant in Germany

Feb. 16, 2011 at 12:38 PM
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FRANKFURT AN DER ODER, Germany, Feb. 16 (UPI) -- Arizona's First Solar, the world's top producer of thin-film solar films, Thursday celebrated the roofing ceremony for a new plant in Germany that would sharply increase the firm's production capacity in the world's biggest solar power market.

After roughly a year of construction, First Solar plans to open the plant in the fall in Frankfurt an der Oder, near the border to Poland, the company said in a news release. The roof of the plant will be decked with solar panels that feed green power into the grid.

First Solar invested about $233 million to build the 238 megawatt plant, which is the company's second in the country. It almost doubles to 477 MW the company's production capacity in Germany, the world's biggest market for solar energy.

"Germany is and remains an important market for solar energy," First Solar President Bruce Sohn said in the news release. "Political support is important for our investments, and helps us reduce the costs of solar energy to the level of conventionally produced power."

Germany's solar power industry has had a rocky past year.

The country's system of uncapped feed-in-tariffs for renewables had led to an unprecedented boom of solar panel installation. But this has cost ordinary Germans, who fund the feed-in-tariffs via their electricity bills.

After at least 7 GW of solar power capacity was added to the German grid in 2010, the so-called eco-tax jumped from 1.5 cents to 3.5 cents per kilowatt-hour at the start of this year. As subsidies are guaranteed for 20 years, Germany faces billions of euros in costs for decades to come.

Well aware that ballooning costs could threaten Germany's years-long green energy boom, the German industry and the government agreed to reduce the solar feed-in-tariff by up to 15 percent. The decision takes effect July 1, six months earlier than planned.

Sohn lauded the German government's decision not to cap solar subsidies but to reduce them as being "necessary and at the same time a motivation to further reduce costs."

The governor of the state of Brandenburg, Matthias Platzeck, took part in the opening ceremony and lauded First Solar's decision to invest further in his state.

"First Solar not only creates up to 500 new jobs for our qualified workforce, but also opens up additional chances for Brandenburg as an industry location," Platzeck was quoted as saying in the same news release.

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