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Solar module manufacturer First Solar Inc., Tempe, Ariz., has selected Mesa, Ariz. as the site of a new fabrication plant. The $300-million first phase is scheduled to break ground later this year, with operations beginning third quarter 2012.

The plant will produce 250 MW of thin-film photovoltaic modules per year, to be used in numerous solar generating facilities throughout the world.
Photo courtesy First Solar
The plant will produce 250 MW of thin-film photovoltaic modules per year, to be used in numerous solar generating facilities throughout the world.
First Solar�s manufacturing plant in Mesa will have a 3-MW rooftop solar array to generate power, similar to this one atop the company�s Perrysburg, Ohio plant.
Photo courtesy First Solar
First Solar�s manufacturing plant in Mesa will have a 3-MW rooftop solar array to generate power, similar to this one atop the company�s Perrysburg, Ohio plant.
The first phase is expected to create 600 clean-room manufacturing jobs when the plant becomes operational in Q3 2012.
Photo courtesy First Solar
The first phase is expected to create 600 clean-room manufacturing jobs when the plant becomes operational in Q3 2012.

The plant will be the first project to break ground at Mesa Proving Grounds, a 3,000-acre master-planned development reinventing a former vehicular testing site used for decades by General Motors. DMB Associates of Scottsdale, Ariz. is the site developer.

First Solar�s facility will be similar to its existing facility in Perrysburg, Ohio, says a company spokesperson, and will create approximately 600 jobs. Four production lines will each output 62.6 MW of thin-film photovoltaic modules per year, using First Solar�s continuous manufacturing process that can transform a sheet of glass into a complete solar module in less than 2.5 hours. A portion of the plant�s own electricity will be generated from a 3-MW, roof-mounted solar installation. The site will also house ground-mounted PV testing areas. The company will pursue ISO 9001, ISO 14001 and OHSAS 18001 certifications.

Several states competed vigorously for the project. Bruce Sohn, president of First Solar, says in a statement that Arizona�s recently passed economic competitiveness package was instrumental in the firm�s decision to locate the plant in Mesa. Signed into law on Feb. 16 by Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer (R), the program provides companies with income and property tax incentives, tax credits and grants for job-specific training programs in exchange for locating in Arizona. A $25-million �deal-closing fund� was also created for use in highly competitive situations for projects with a �substantial economic and fiscal impact to a state and community.�

DMB is currently demolishing and recycling approximately 75 miles of existing asphalt and concrete track on the proving grounds site, along with 430,000 sq ft of buildings and other structures, says Dea McDonald, vice president of development for DMB. Infrastructure to support the plant and future residential development will begin in Q2. �Mass grading of the First Solar site will also begin in Q2,� McDonald adds.

The first project at the Mesa Proving Grounds was originally to be a 100-acre, high-end destination resort built by Nashville, Tenn.-based Gaylord Entertainment, but the project was put on hold due to the economic downturn. �Given the convention business market generally over the past couple of years, it will likely be a while before they are able to move forward,� McDonald says.

First Solar is currently constructing the Agua Caliente Solar Facility near Yuma, which received a $967-million loan guarantee from the Dept. of Energy earlier this year. The firm was also recently selected to design and build a 17-MW solar plant in Gila Bend, Ariz. for Phoenix-based utility Arizona Public Service. Using 300,000 thin-film photovoltaic panels mounted on fixed-tilt steel frames, the site will begin generating power in September.

Another First Solar manufacturing plant is under construction in Chi Minh City, Vietnam. Production is expected to begin in the second half of 2012, according to a company spokesperson.