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Asian Solar Power Company Investing $2.5B to Expand Georgia Factories

Thu February 09, 2023 - Southeast Edition #4

Qcells North America will invest more than $2.5 billion to build a new manufacturing facility in Cartersville, Bartow County, and add a third facility to its Dalton, Whitfield County, location, creating more than 2,500 new jobs in northwest Georgia. (Rendering courtesy of Qcells)
Qcells North America will invest more than $2.5 billion to build a new manufacturing facility in Cartersville, Bartow County, and add a third facility to its Dalton, Whitfield County, location, creating more than 2,500 new jobs in northwest Georgia. (Rendering courtesy of Qcells)

A South Korean solar panel maker is investing more than $2.5 billion to build factories in Georgia, hiring 2,500 new employees and making components usually manufactured outside the United States, the company announced in January.

Qcells, a unit of Hanwha Solutions, will build a new factory in Cartersville, Ga., planned to employ 2,000 people, with construction getting under way soon, and production starting before the end of 2024.

WAGA-TV in Atlanta reported in January that the company also announced a third phase to its Dalton, Ga., plant, already the largest maker of solar panels in the Western Hemisphere. Qcells will add another 500 jobs in that northwestern Georgia city, raising employment at the factory above 1,500 once all expansions are complete.

"We are seeking to further expand our low-carbon solar investments as we lead the industry towards fully American-made clean energy solutions," Qcells CEO Justin Lee said in a statement.

The new factory in Cartersville, in Bartow County, south of Dalton, will assemble solar panels, silicon ingots and wafers, and solar cells. Qcells plans to use polysilicon made at an REC Silicon plant in Washington State following Hanwha's purchase of 21 percent of REC shares in 2022.

Qcells now makes solar modules capable of generating 1.7 gigawatts of electricity each year at the Dalton plant, WAGA-TV noted. Following the facility expansions, the company will make 8.4 gigawatts worth of modules, or about 10,000 solar panels. That will include a capacity of 5.1 gigawatts in Dalton and 3.3 gigawatts in Cartersville, the manufacturer said.

The company has 750 people working at its existing Dalton factory, and Qcells announced plans last year for a second $171 million phase, hiring 470 more workers.

State, Federal Officials Welcome Expansions

Politicians from both sides of the aisle in the Peach State celebrated the announcement, with Gov. Brian Kemp touting Qcells' plans as an example of Georgia setting itself apart as "the No. 1 state for business."

"Combined with our robust logistics infrastructure, top-ranked workforce training program, and collaborative approach, Georgia provides a business-friendly environment that means jobs for hardworking Georgians in every corner of the state and success for both existing and new companies," he said.

President Joe Biden described the news as "a win for workers, consumers and our climate," in a statement, adding that it would provide good jobs, reduce American reliance on other countries for solar components, lower the cost of solar panels and help lower carbon emissions.

Once operational, the Cartersville plant will fulfill one of the aims of the climate change and health care bill that Biden signed last August. It included provisions from Georgia Sens. Jon Ossoff and Raphael Warnock allowing companies making the components used in solar panels to claim tax credits.

"My goal remains to make Georgia the world leader in advanced energy production," Ossoff said in a statement.

Warnock, Ossoff and Biden administration officials say Biden's strategy is working to enhance the nation's manufacturing base as part of the transition to clean energy.

"By 2027, the Qcells expansion is projected to supply about 30 percent of total U.S. demand for solar panels," John Podesta, the president's clean energy adviser, told reporters. "I think it's fair to say that this deal is President Biden's vision come to life."

The White House said the administration's policy has driven $300 billion in private investment by industries including semiconductors, clean energy, electric vehicles and batteries, with nearly $25 billion of that coming in Georgia.

That includes two $5 billion-plus electric vehicle plants, and a $4 billion-plus battery plant announced for Cartersville in December, WAGA-TV reported. Hyundai Motor Group is building one of the vehicle plants and is partnering with fellow South Korean firm SK Group to build the Bartow County battery factory.

The Atlanta news outlet noted that Georgia economic development officials have particularly promoted electric vehicles and batteries.

"Qcells has long been a pioneer in the solar industry, and it solidified Georgia's place as a leader in renewable energy and sustainable technology when it cut the ribbon on the largest solar panel manufacturing facility in the Western Hemisphere in 2019," Georgia Economic Development Commissioner Pat Wilson said in a statement.

The total incentive package from state and local governments was not immediately clear, but Qcells could qualify for more than $65 million in Georgia income tax credits, at $5,250 per job over five years, if workers make at least $31,300 a year. Local officials have said Qcells workers in Dalton have starting wages of $17 an hour.

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