August 30, 2018 / 4:04 AM / 3 months ago

Canada's Silfab to invest $40 mln in U.S. solar panel factory

Aug 30 (Reuters) - Canada’s Silfab Solar, a leading North American solar panel producer, said on Thursday it will spend $40 million to purchase and expand Itek Energy’s solar panel production facility in Bellingham, Washington.

The announcement marks the latest in a handful of investments by panel producer companies in the United States since President Donald Trump announced a four-year tariff on panel imports in January to boost local manufacturing.

Privately owned Silfab hopes to raise production capacity at the Bellingham factory from 150 megawatts (MW) a year to as much as 350 MW per year “as soon as possible,” spokesman Geoff Atkins told Reuters. Silfab currently produces 700 MW of solar panels at a facility in Ontario, nearly all of which is sold to customers in the United States.

“This was the logical place to expand,” said Atkins.

Atkins said the deal means that Silfab will “ultimately own and control this manufacturing facility” but added that Itek, a smaller manufacturer that began producing panels in Bellingham in late 2011, would retain a presence at the site.

Itek President John Flanagan said in a news release that his company “looks forward to an exciting future with expanded capabilities and greater automation” as a result of the deal.

Atkins said the Bellingham factory expansion would likely mean some additional hiring, but did not provide an estimate. He said the tariff was not the main driver behind the deal, but that it could help the deal succeed.

Other panel manufacturers, including China’s Jinko Solar Co Ltd and Korea’s Hanwha Q Cells Co Ltd, have also announced investments in U.S. solar manufacturing in the wake of the tariffs, expecting the levy to reduce foreign competition.

Panel prices on the international market have fallen sharply in recent months, however, after China cut subsidies for its fast-growing domestic solar industry in June, forcing panel producers to scramble for other buyers and eroding much of the Trump tariff’s impact. (Writing by Richard Valdmanis; Editing by Lisa Shumaker)

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