Alstom Power's president said Wednesday the company's new Chattanooga factory remains on track to hit the 350-job mark as it builds more components for natural gas plants.
"We're seeing there will be a rush to gas in new equipment installations, and we'll be ready with our factory to participate," said Tim Curran, the company's U.S. president.
Curran, who was in Chattanooga to dedicate a $480,000 solar power array outside its boiler operation off Riverfront Parkway, said it may take two to three years to get to a full workforce. The new factory currently has about 230 workers, in addition to the 500 employeees at Alstom's boiler facility in Chattanooga.
Curran said in an interview that abundant natural gas reserves in the United States are driving down fuel costs. The price of natural gas dropped this week to a 10-year low with futures priced only half the level of last summer.
The installation of gas-powered plants also is a lot less than nuclear, Curran said.
Still, he said he's optimistic about the so-called nuclear renaissance, which was touted a couple of years ago when Alstom's $300 million plant was completed.
The nuclear rebirth has been slow to power up, hit hard by the world economy and the disaster in Fukishima, Japan, last year. However, earlier this year, federal regulators approved the construction of America's first new nuclear reactors in more than 30 years at Plant Vogtle in South Georgia.
"We believe as a company that a balanced portfolio of energy is required in the long term," Curran said.
Alstom's 56.16-kilowatt solar installation is aimed at producing 75,000 kilowatt-hours of electricity over a year's time. Power generated by the solar system is fed back into the electrical grid, and the company receives credits from the Tennessee Valley Authority.
Jean Peretz, the Tennessee Solar Institute's operations director, said it provided grant money to cover about 25 percent of the Alstom project. She said TSI over the past couple of years has helped in more projects in Hamilton County than any other in the state.
"It says something about the industrial sector and companies," Peretz said.
Anj McClain, director of Chattanooga Greenspaces, said Greenspaces has assisted in 20 Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design-certified projects in Hamilton County.
That project and the solar array are "proof Alstom is committed to Chattanooga longterm," she said.
David Wade, EPB's executive vice president, said the city values innovation and embraces technology.
"Alstom is one of those companies," he said.