SoloPower to Announce Plans for $340 Million
by Molly Young
In a surprise move, SoloPower officials will announce plans Friday to bring a $340 million solar plant to North Portland, abandoning an $11 million incentive package tied to Wilsonville.
SoloPower has outlined plans to initially employ 170 people, possibly increasing to 500 employees within five years, making thin-film solar panels.
Business and civic leaders expect a formal announcement Friday morning at Portland City Hall.
Talks between Portland and the San Jose, Calif., company began to heat up last month when critics in Wilsonville started collecting signatures to bring the issue of public subsidies to a citywide vote. Two weeks ago, company representatives toured sites with officials from the Portland Development Commission, and CEO Tim Harris went to dinner with Portland Mayor Sam Adams.
Then on May 5, Adams, PDC Chairman Scott Andrews and others visited San Jose. Adams' spokeswoman Amy Ruiz, declined to provide details of the trip other than to say "it went quite well."
Tim Harris began quietly informing Portland area civic and business leaders of the company's decision Thursday morning.
Steve Gilmore, executive director of the Wilsonville Chamber of Commerce, later sent an email to board members. "The Portland City Council will (be) taking up their application to move into one of Portland's enterprise zones," he wrote.
Landing the solar panel company would be a victory in Adams' efforts to bring green jobs to the city. Adams and Andrews traveled to Spain in February to meet top executives of Iberdrola Renewables, trying to retain the wind-farm company's North American headquarters in Portland. The PDC also leveraged incentives to attract a new U.S. headquarters for Vestas, the Danish wind-turbine manufacturer.
Adams briefed members of the Portland City Council on developments Thursday afternoon but declined to comment on reports of a possible deal that would bring SoloPower to Portland. "It's a beautiful day out there, it's sunny, isn't it?" said a smiling Adams, "sunny, beautiful day."
SoloPower reportedly is considering several sites at the sprawling 2,800 acre Rivergate Industrial Park in North Portland, on land owned by the Port of Portland. Two sites are for sale with two others available for leasing, ranging from 3.5 to more than eight acres.
Jonathan Schlueter, executive director of the Westside Economic Alliance, said Harris also briefed him on SoloPower's news. Schlueter said he asked Harris about westside locations other than Wilsonville. But Harris had locked in on Rivergate, one of the few areas featuring more than 200,000 square feet of space.
Presumably, any deal with Portland would match or beat Wilsonville's offer of $4 million in cash and $7 million in tax incentives, tied to specific employment and production benchmarks.
The state has already offered SoloPower $20 million in business energy tax credits and a $20 million energy loan earlier this year. The subsidies are transferable. The company also stands to receive a $197 million U.S. Department of Energy loan guarantee, but the terms remain confidential.
The company has said it hopes to start construction work this summer on the first production lines of its thin-film solar panel plant. Ed Casey, who will operate the plant, had no comment when asked whether a Portland site could meet that deadline.
Harris has said the company has already ordered millions of dollars worth of equipment for the plant and filled orders for the first two years of production. Officials also interviewed possible hires in Wilsonville.
"The company is burning money," Harris said in April. "I don't have a lot of time to mess around."
Wilsonville officials reacted with disappointment Thursday.
"This is a family newspaper, right? So you're limited in what you can print," Mayor Tim Knapp said. "I would be very disappointed if we have a situation where a small group of people in the city have cost this five-hundred-job company to go elsewhere."
Charlotte Lehan, chairwoman of the Clackamas County Board of Commissioners, said another manufacturer is interested in the Wilsonville site, the former Nike distribution center on Southwest 95th Avenue. SoloPower and the other business, which Lehan declined to name, competed against each other during lease negotiations, she said. "We're sorry we didn't get SoloPower, but I think it will work out in the end."
Leasing agent Andy Kangas did not return calls for comment Thursday.
Wilsonville city Councilor Scott Starr said he didn't blame SoloPower for striking a deal with Portland, although he remains confident that Wilsonville is a superior choice. "We could compete against Portland any day of the week," Starr said. "We're a lot better than how this ended up."
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