Things are getting real for Helios Solar.
What began as a dream has started to take hold, and both Fowler,Colo., and nearby Pueblo are contributing support to a potentialconcentrated photovoltaics (CPV) manufacturing plant that may take rootin the area.
“The town of Fowler really wants to do this,” said Ben Jones, CEO of Helios Solar. “The biggest company worldwide in factory automation is helping us, and CSU pueblo.”
Recently, Colorado State University-Pueblo’s Engineering Departmentcommitted to create a pilot facility for Helios on its campus.
“We believe that our expertise is very well matched to Helios Solar’s objectives at this stage in their development and would like to develop a series of joint-venture projects, each focused on achieving aparticular goal,” wrote Jane Fraser, Engineering Department chair forCSU Pueblo, in an official letter to Jones. “We envision that thiscollaboration will take the form of direct faculty involvement inapplied research, master’s theses, senior design projects andinternships.”
But Helios isn’t announcing anything just yet. There are still myriad logistics Jones and his team must work through before Fowler will seeany construction crews.
However, the town is hedging its bets.
Fowler recently voted to gift Helios 15 acres of land to build themanufacturing plant. Helios had its eye on the town’s vacant Divencannery, but Jones said that the space, about six acres, might not bebig enough.
“I knew there was land if we needed to expand,” said Jones. “I didn’t know they were gifting us, though. There are advantages in using thecannery, but we can’t pass up 15 acres.”
Jones said the plan, as it stands now, is to build a zero-carbon factory.
“We can use geothermal for heating and cooling, solar thermal for hot water, and CPV for electricity generation,” said Jones. “There are alot of zero-carbon homes, but not a zero-carbon factory at this scale. I think it would be a great success model.”
But Helios isn’t the only fish in the proverbial CPV pond in the West.
Last week, Amonix, a competitor in the concentrated solar market, opened a manufacturing plant outside of Las Vegas, which, according to Jones, is encouraging.
“The Amonix plant proves that the industry is accepting thetechnology,” said Jones. Concentrated PV is still, by industrystandards, in its adolescence. And Helios, which manufacturessignificantly smaller modules (Amonix’s are absolutely enormous), is inthe right position to jump in while the water’s shallow and provide thelocal economy around Southern Colorado with a bit of a boost.
At full strength, Jones estimates that the plant will employ over 400 workers, and Jones is hoping that Helios’ financial plans will begin to take shape in the near future.
“We could start building tomorrow,” said Jones. “But we’re still looking for the investment.”