Arizona Technology and Innovation: First Solar

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Progress is coming fast on a huge solar panel factory being built in Mesa. The First Solar factory will cover 1.3 million square feet when completed. Solar panel production is expected to start in the middle of next year. Todd Spangler, who was recently named the plant’s manager, will discuss the progress of First Solar.

Ted Simons: A dedication ceremony was held recently for First Solars new solar panel manufacturing plant in Mesa. I'll talk to the new manager of the plant, Todd Spangler. Why did -- was it the best spot? Texas and New Mexico fighting hard for this?

Todd Spangler: When you looked at the economics, the support of the state, the incentive, the labor force -- a great option for us.

Ted Simons: And as far as the airport being nearby, ASU, the polytechnic out there -- factors?

Todd Spangler: Sure, the greater valley, you know, a great place for us and helped with the supply chain options and also the college being nearby certainly is a great training resource we feel we'll be able to utilize.

Ted Simons: What exactly does this plant build?

Todd Spangler: We -- we follow what is called a copy smart mentality. All of our plants produce the same thing. It's a two foot by four foot solar panel that generates power. That's it.

Ted Simons: That's it? Not a lot of diversification. Make one thing and do it well.

Todd Spangler: Very well, yes.

Ted Simons: The buildings, this is the first of what could be how many?

Todd Spangler: The campus is designed so we could put four buildings. The first is 1.35 million square feet. Yeah.

Ted Simons: And three others could come along the pike?

Todd Spangler: Depending on demand, sure.

Ted Simons: And we're looking at the construction process. Seems like it's going up fast. Are you surprised by how fast?

Todd Spangler: The copy smart mentality help -- the copy smart mentality benefits us tremendously. It's something we're good at.

Ted Simons: When will this be now?

Todd Spangler: Mid year.

Todd Spangler: Mid next year.

Ted Simons: How many jobs?

Todd Spangler: 600 in manufacturing, 500 construction jobs also to start.

Ted Simons: What wages?

Todd Spangler: We're very competitive, company in terms of wages, it varies dramatically because we're hiring engineers to management and we've got finance and a bulk of production workers.

Ted Simons: If the other buildings do get started, is there a timetable for that? Basically waiting for the market?

Todd Spangler: Not at this time. It's market driven.

Ted Simons: Speaking of the market, what is the market for what's being built there?

Todd Spangler: Sure, the market is primarily for first solar, utility escape pouts. There are a -- power plants, there are a few power plants in Arizona we're working on right now, where they're like the traditional forms of power, generating electricity fed to the grid and the other major market is rooftop applications.

Ted Simons: I read somewhere that Germany was number one for now.

Todd Spangler: Germany has been heavy in the solar industry though that's changing as the world recognizes the advantage of having solar electricity.

Ted Simons: You think the United States could be up there close?

Todd Spangler: We think within the next year, the United States could be a primary market.

Ted Simons: Yeah.

Ted Simons: You guys are building in Yuma?

Todd Spangler: There's a large site there, yes.

Ted Simons: Is there a relationship going on here? Is this something you'll be able to use?

Todd Spangler: Sure, as we looked at where to expand our capacity, building in the U.S. was driven largely by some of the U.S. demand, like Yuma.

Ted Simons: So basically, Arizona because of this kind of push for solar power help make this decision for first solar?

Todd Spangler: Certainly a part of it, yeah. The political climate here was certainly a big factor toward the support we got toward the decision we made.

Ted Simons: Plant manager.

Todd Spangler: That's my title.

Ted Simons: What are you going to do? Walking around bossing people around.

Todd Spangler: Hopefully, there's a little bit more to it. We have a great team we've started to recruit and we believe in a team atmosphere and everybody has a voice.

Ted Simons: And from where you sit, the state of solar power in Arizona, in the United States, in the world, what -- what are you seeing?

Todd Spangler: We're on the verge of a major crossroads with solar power. Anyone that does research knows the term grid parody and the fact that we're so close to being to the point where solar power could be at grid parity with other forms of electricity and when that happens, it's a big deem.

Ted Simons: Good to have you here. Thanks for joining us.

Todd Spangler: Thanks for having me, Ted.

Todd Spangler: First Solar Plant Manager

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