published Thursday, January 21st, 2010

Confluence Solar announces $200M plant in Tennessee

ERIK SCHELZIG, Associated Press Writer

NASHVILLE — Confluence Solar Inc. plans to build a $200 million solar manufacturing plant in East Tennessee, Gov. Phil Bredesen and company officials announced Thursday.

John DeLuca, a co-founder of the Hazelwood, Mo.-based company, said the 200,000-square-foot facility in Clinton is projected to create 250 jobs once it reaches full capacity. Depending on demand, that could be as soon as within 18 months, but the company said as few as 50 and 75 people will be enough to get operations started.

DeLuca, who once worked at Oak Ridge National Laboratory, said the choice of the site off Interstate 75 in Anderson County was strengthened by the proximity to the lab and to the new stimulus-funded Solar Institute at the University of Tennessee.

"For a small startup company like ours, it is hard to overstate the importance of being close to ... the people and the analytical resources available there," he said.

He also cited the polysilicon plants being built in Tennessee by Hemlock Semiconductor Corp. and Wacker Chemie AG. Both plants will produce the material used by Confluence Solar to make premium quality silicon ingots for solar cells.

DeLuca said 17 other Tennessee communities competed for the plant.

Bredesen said Thursday's announcement was evidence that Tennessee's emphasis on green energy investment is paying off.

"I'm becoming convinced that it's increasingly difficult for companies in the clean energy sector to ignore the momentum that we're building in Tennessee," he said.

The governor also noted that the announcement comes on the heels of another Clinton company, SL America Corp., winning a major contract to make automatic shifter assemblies for the new Volkswagen plant being built in Chattanooga.

"No matter what the weather is around the state, I think the sun is shining in Anderson County right now," he said.

Bredesen said Thursday's announcement was distinct from efforts to attract what he has called a "major" commercial investment related to Tennessee's biofuels program.

Bredesen in November revealed the potential investment when he argued a legislative panel's concerns about Tennessee's involvement in the state's biofuel initiative could scare off the company. The panel later relented and approved funding for a pilot biofuel plant in Vonore, and the governor said he hoped to announce the commercial investment by the end of the year.

"This is not it," Bredesen told reporters after the Confluence Solar announcement. "It hasn't gone away, we're still working on it."

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