First Solar to build $1.1 billion solar panel plant in North Alabama, adding 700 jobs

Staff file photo / Solar panels are shown on Baylor School's campus in Chattanooga.

The biggest U.S.-based maker of solar panels plans to build a $1.1 billion manufacturing facility in the Tennessee Valley.

First Solar Inc., the Tempe, Arizona-based solar manufacturer, announced Wednesday it has selected a site in Lawrence County in North Alabama to build its fourth U.S. solar panel manufacturing facility to produce 3.5 gigawatts of solar modules annually by 2025. The company said the plant will hire more than 700 workers.

The company said the new plant will help boost solar panel output to help meet the projected increased demand for utility-scale solar power boosted by the extra incentives approved this year by Congress in the Inflation Reduction Act.

"The passage of the Inflation Reduction Act of 2022 has firmly placed America on the path to a sustainable energy future," Mark Widmar, chief executive officer of First Solar, said in an announcement of the new facility. "This facility, along with its sister factories in Ohio, will form part of the industrial foundation that helps ensure this transition is powered by American innovation and ingenuity."

First Solar is building production to produce more than 10 gigawatts of solar modules within the next three years. The company is spending more than $4 billion to build its U.S. facilities, three of which are being built in Ohio, including one slated to come online during the first half of 2023.

The U.S. solar industry now stands at around 126.1 gigawatts, which is enough to power 22 million homes, according to the Solar Energy Industries Association. But many utilities, including the Tennessee Valley Authority, are planning to build or buy more solar power to replace aging coal and gas plants as part of their decarbonization efforts.

TVA has requested proposals from vendors for up to 5,000 megawatts of renewable energy to be in service by 2029.

TVA officials said First Solar will not only bring jobs to TVA's seven-state service territory, it will also help supply needed supplies for more solar farms.

"First Solar and TVA share a commitment to sustainability and innovation, as well as supporting our local communities," TVA CEO Jeff Lyash said in a statement about the solar panel project in Alabama." As the nation's largest solar panel manufacturer, First Solar is bringing hundreds of quality jobs to the region. We are proud of our partnership with Joe Wheeler Electric Membership Corp., the state of Alabama and other economic development agencies to help make North Alabama the region of choice for First Solar's newest location."

Designed and developed at its research and development centers in California and Ohio, First Solar's advanced thin-film photovoltaic modules set industry benchmarks for durability, reliability, design and environmental performance, Widmer said.

"As it works to develop the next generation of solar technologies, First Solar represents the kind of innovative, technology-forward company that can help power Alabama's economy into the future," Greg Canfield, secretary of the Alabama Department of Commerce, said in a statement. "This investment supports sustainability and advances America's energy security -- and it's great news for Alabama."

First Solar is the second major announcement this month of a billion-dollar-plus investment in the Tennessee Valley. Earlier this month, Steel Dynamics announced plans for a $2.5 billion expansion of its facilities near Oxford, Mississippi, to create 1,000 jobs.

Contact Dave Flessner at dflessner@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6340. Follow him on Twitter @DFlessner1.