Massachusetts-based solar cell manufacturer Evergreen Solar, bellwether of the Bay State’s push for clean energy, announced on Wednesday its plans to move solar panel assembly to China.The statement, appearing in the company’s filing of earnings for thethird quarter of 2009, arrives less than a year after Evergreen openedthe doors to its much-lauded plant in Devens, the recipient of $58.6million in state aid. Of the 577 full-time and 230 contract workers atthe Devens location, half are involved in assembling the panels, thoughthe company declined to comment on how many would lose their jobs as aresult of the move.
From the Boston Globe:
In a statement [Wednesday] night, Evergreen said it“remains committed to the investment it has made in Massachusetts.Marlborough is the home of our company headquarters and R&Dfacilities. Devens will continue to be our US manufacturing locationfor wafer and cell production, and our staffing plans will remain wellwithin the employment commitment we made to the state when we firstannounced our plans to build the Devens facility.’’
The company’s intentions to shave costs by shifting production to the city of Wuhan and contracting with Chinese manufacturer Jiawei Solar have been out in the open since April,though the recent announcement confirms the industry’s (and presumablyGovernor Deval Patrick’s) worst fears. When it inked its $58.6 milliondeal with the Patrick administration earlier this year, Evergreen hadpromised to repay the state grants, loan, land, tax incentives andother forms of aid with 350 jobs, a promise that has been more thanmet. But financial difficultieshave posed setbacks to the company, thanks to overseas competition anddeclined solar panel prices. It had also recently requested $5 millionfrom the state to cover equipment purchases, though Evergreen has yetto see the money.
Not surprisingly, the Patrick administration is not pleased.
“Governor Patrick and I are disappointed by EvergreenSolar’s decision to begin moving the final panel assembly component oftheir business to China,’’ said Ian Bowles, secretary of the state’sExecutive Office of Energy and Environmental Affairs. “In just twoshort years, Evergreen Solar has become a significant employer inMassachusetts, and we will work hard to make sure the company protectsthe maximum number of jobs in our state.’’
For a company that lost a troubling $167 million over the past ninemonths, the move to Wuhan—where Evergreen expects to be able to producesolar panels at $1.50/watt—is a decision grounded purely in economics.But at a time when the distribution of federal or state money isclosely scrutinized and the creation of green jobs is one thegovernment’s hopeful cures for the ailing economy, the decision has thepotential to produce a ripple effect of discontent.