Wacker boosting plant in Bradley County by $200 million

Wacker boosting plant in Bradley County by $200 million

May 9th, 2014 by Mike Pare in Business Around the Region

The Wacker plant in Charleston, TN.

Photo by Contributed Photo /Times Free Press.

Wacker is upping its investment in its Bradley County, Tenn., plant again, saying it could put as much as $200 million more into its polysilicon factory and push the project to $2.4 billion.

"It's very good news for us," said Gary Farlow, who heads the Cleveland/Bradley County Chamber of Commerce.

When Wacker began work in April 2011, the plant investment was $1.5 billion.

The company, in its first-quarter report, also said it's on schedule to open in the second half of 2015. In addition, the German giant said it sees higher output when the factory comes on line through improved production processes.

Wacker expects to have 650 people on board when it starts making the material used in solar panels.

The company cited other large-scale projects by the chemical industry to take advantage of the shale-gas boom as propelling construction costs higher.

"On the basis of bids received, we now consider it possible that the total investment volume will range from $2.3 billion to $2.4 billion," the company report said.

Farlow said that naysayers have expressed worries that production might not start in 2015. He said the company's remarks reinforces that the project is on track.

The Wacker project is the biggest private construction project underway in Tennessee. A recent federal report called it the second largest in the Southeast.

Konrad Bachhuber, who heads Wacker's operations outside Charleston, said the plant's construction workforce is to double to about 2,000 by the end of this year and into early 2015.

"We're pushing the project forward," he said about the factory's current construction schedule in a recent interview.

In 2012, the company announced that production would be delayed by about 18 months and it slowed the pace of construction. Wacker blamed changing solar market conditions and over-capacity for polysilicon for the delay.

In its quarterly report, the company cited a greater shift in product demand to the United States and Asia. Wacker also noted an agreement with China on the importing of European solar-grade silicon to the Chinese market. It said the pact ensures the company will continue to be able to supply China "at market-oriented terms."

In Clarksville, Tenn., Hemlock Semiconductor built a $1.2 billion polysilicon factory earlier this decade but never started production. Last November, Hemlock notified nearly 300 employees who had been put on administrative leave earlier in the year that their jobs were eliminated.

Farlow said that as Wacker increases its investment, it can take advantage of a 25-year incentive package that includes a 50 percent tax abatement.

Contact Mike Pare at mpare@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6318.