There continues to be one significant roadblock for 1366 Technologies to get around before breaking ground a new $700 million solar wafer manufacturing facility in Alabama -- getting the Department of Energy's final approval on a previously promised $150 million loan guarantee.
If that loan guarantee isn't finalized, 1366 Technologies, instead of creating 1,000 good-paying jobs in Genesee County, could turn to an overseas location for its manufacturing facility.
"We remain focused on the U.S. and U.S. job creation," said Laureen Sanderson, spokeswoman for 1366. "We continue to work closely with the State and GCEDC, who remain committed to the project, and we’re in active discussions with the Department of Energy. Those discussions have been positive, but we’ve yet to receive a final indication on the status of the loan."
The Boston Business Journal reported today that 1366 just secured another $9 million in funding from investors, bringing the total raised to $89 million. The article also raised the specter of 1366 locating its facility in another country.
The company identified a site in New York for that manufacturing facility, but is still working to officially secure the funding from the DOE. In the meantime, a company spokesperson said, 1366 is exploring the possibility of building its first factory abroad due to the commercial interest its technology has received internationally.
"We are exploring possibilities to build factories internationally, but that has always been part of our plan," Sanderson said, adding, "It is understood that building in the U.S. is only possible if the loan is accessible. If it’s not there, we need to pursue the other options available to us."
The factory would be about 130,000 square feet and located in the advanced manufacturing park under construction in Alabama known as STAMP. It's been a decade-long process by Steve Hyde and the GCEDC to bring STAMP to fruition and 1366 Technologies is the first, and so far, only significant tenant announced for the park.
The company selected STAMP in part because of its location to low-cost, clean energy, specifically, hydropower from Niagara Falls.
The proprietary method 1366 Technologies uses to manufacture solar wafers was developed at MIT and leads to solar wafers that are more efficient, produced at lower costs and with less waste than the way solar wafers are manufactured currently. The company's immediate goal is to manufacture wafers domestically for export to large solar installations overseas, such as the one completed earlier this year in Japan.
Hyde said GCEDC remains committed to bringing 1366 to Genesee County.
He issued this statement:
The Genesee County Economic Development Center (GCEDC), along with our U.S. Senate and Congressional delegates, continue to work with 1366 Technologies to help secure the US Department of Energy Loan Guarantee that will enable the company to build their first Direct Wafer manufacturing facility at the Western New York Science and Technology Advanced Manufacturing Park (WNY STAMP).
We believe that the Company has clarified their intentions that their strategy is a U.S. manufacturing first strategy and as such fully aligns with their previous commitments to establish their U.S. manufacturing hub at our 1,250-acre STAMP High Tech Mega-Campus here in Genesee County.
Rep. Chris Collins, through a statement issued by staff, said he is doing what he can to help secure the loan guarantee for 1366.
Congressman Collins has been actively working with partners at the Genesee County Economic Development Center to assist in opening a dialogue with 1366 Technologies and the U.S. Department of Energy. The Congressman is pleased that Secretary Rick Perry recently met with 1366 Technologies executives to discuss this project. These conversations are necessary to make sure that any significant taxpayer investment in the form of a government backed loan is made prudently.
We are hopeful that an understanding will be reached that protects taxpayers while creating economic opportunity in Genesee County. The Congressman will continue in his role in assisting this conversation and always remains committed to supporting efforts to create jobs in Genesee County.
The loan guarantee was promised to 1366 in 2011 but during the transition to the Trump Administration, there were delays related to the transition.
Sanderson said, "There was a transition with the change in administration and that was more challenging than we had expected. However, we’re now having the right discussions and those remain active."
The company is entering a highly competitive solar market that is booming (Solar Employs More People In U.S. Electricity Generation Than Oil, Coal And Gas Combined). Sanderson acknowledged the company, which currently has a small facility in Boston that employs 60 people, is keen to move forward with full production.
"We’re eager to bring the technology to mass production because we know what it can do for the industry and for consumers’ ability to access inexpensive solar power," Sanderson said. "But we’ve certainly taken advantage of the time in the run-up to scale to make additional technical gains. We’ve now surpassed the efficiency of the incumbent technology and have a cost advantage that no sawn wafer can beat. We’ll continue to make gains as the first step – but certainly not the last – in our scaling effort crystallizes."
UPDATE Friday, 10 a.m.: Statement from the office of Sen. Charles Schumer:
“Last month Senator Schumer spoke directly to U.S. Department of Energy Secretary Rick Perry and urged him to reach out to the 1366 Technologies CEO and meet with 1366. Almost immediately after the conversation, Secretary Perry reached out to the CEO and met that following week. Our office remains in very close contact with 1366 Technologies and the Department of Energy,” said Jason Kaplan, spokesman for Senator Schumer.