SunPower to build 75MW solar plant in California

Long-tenured solar company SunPower is partnering with Flextronics to build panels at a new 75-megawatt capacity California factory.

SunPower, which said last week that a US manufacturing announcement was imminent, picked Milpitas, in California’s Silicon Valley, not far from its San Jose headquarters. The company says it will create 100 new jobs this year in partnership with Flextronics, a Singapore-based electronics manufacturing services provider.

The announcement, made with Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger on Earth Day, is a victory for California. The state’s aggressive renewable energy incentives have come under pressure as unemployment remains high.

"I can think of no better way to celebrate Earth Day than to highlight action that is good for both California's environment and its economy,” Schwarzenegger says in a statement. “SunPower is not only enabling homes and businesses to conserve energy and save money by going solar, they are also creating jobs at a time when they are needed most.”

Last month, the California legislature approved the governor’s proposal to exempt renewable energy manufacturing equipment from state sales taxes – adding to a suite of policies aimed at reducing California greenhouse gas emissions and grow a green economy. The sales tax break was a bid to attract more manufacturers and the SunPower announcement is an early proof point.

“The Governor's leadership on the California Solar Initiative, the Renewable Portfolio Standard, incentives for green manufacturing equipment and AB 32 provide us with the confidence to further invest in our home state,” says SunPower chief executive Tom Werner in a statement.

Federal support is also driving SunPower’s decision to invest in the US. The company has access to up to $24m from the Department of Energy’s solar programme for “improvements across the value chain that reduce solar system costs”. It is also making use of a federal economic stimulus funding for advanced energy equipment manufacturing.

SunPower says four equipment suppliers for the factory make their equipment in the US and the sets used in Milpitas will be exported to a facility in Europe.

SunPower says the California location will help it serve the burgeoning Western solar market, led by California itself. State utilities regulators this week approved a five-year, 500MW solar programme of Pacific Gas & Electric. It follows a similar programme approved last year for Southern California Edison. SunPower says it has a contract to deliver 200MW of its T5 Solar Roof Tile product to SCE.