First Solar, the largest solar energy manufacturer in the Western Hemisphere, announced Thursday that it will build its fifth U.S. manufacturing facility at Acadiana Regional Airport in New Iberia, La.
That will place a facility in which First Solar anticipates investing $1.1 billion – believed to be the largest single capital investment in the area’s history – a short distance from the University of Louisiana at Lafayette; the location is strategically advantageous, given UL Lafayette will provide a range of resources and capabilities for a company with which it already has strong ties.
First Solar plans to create more than 700 new direct jobs with a total annual payroll of at least $40 million, according to a press release. The company will tap the University for a large portion of the workforce at the facility, where high-performance photovoltaic (PV) solar modules will be produced. Initial projections call for construction to be completed in 2026.
In addition to workforce and economic development, First Solar will collaborate with University researchers in a range of areas, including technology and development; the company will provide internship opportunities for students; and it will utilize University facilities for testing and training.
The epicenter for much of that collaboration will be the University’s Antoun Hall, which houses the Louisiana Solar Energy Lab, one of the largest outdoor solar testing facilities in the southeastern United States. The 4,200-panel solar field encompasses 6 acres; it is situated next to a 4,500-square-foot building at University Research Park.
The solar field and lab make the University a hub for solar research, technology development, instruction, training, outreach and workforce development. The Department of Mechanical Engineering’s Dr. Terrence Chambers, the lab’s director, will help coordinate much of the collaboration with First Solar.
Dr. Joseph Savoie, UL Lafayette president, said that The Louisiana Solar Energy Lab “is an integral component of the University’s leadership in both traditional and sustainable energy, and indicative of our wide-ranging capabilities for research and operational testing.”
Savoie added: “First Solar’s choice to locate its newest manufacturing plant here underscores the University’s success in not only educating tomorrow’s engineers, but our significant, essential role – and value – as an economic engine for the region, state, nation – and beyond.”
Dr. Ramesh Kolluru, the University’s vice president for Research, Innovation and Economic Development, agrees. “First Solar’s investment in the region and state emphasizes the importance of collaborations between top-tier research universities like UL Lafayette, industry, local partners like Acadiana Planning Commission, One Acadiana, Lafayette Economic Development Authority, and Iberia Parish leaders that has translated to this economic development success made possible by the impactful work of our researchers like Dr. Chambers,” he explained.
“With First Solar as our neighbor in Iberia Parish, our research and academic partnership will continue to flourish and evolve,” Kolluru added. “UL Lafayette’s researchers and faculty will collaborate with our partners at South Louisiana Community College, Louisiana Economic Development (LED), and LED FastStart to develop the state-of-the-art curricula, certifications, and credentials for the workforce the company will need on day one and beyond.”
LED estimates that, in addition to direct jobs, First Solar’s prescence will result in at least 694 new indirect jobs. Coupled with the 700 new direct jobs, that equates to a total of approximately 1,400 new jobs in the Acadiana region.
“First Solar’s selection of Iberia Parish for its newest solar panel production facility leaves no doubt that Louisiana is leading the global energy transition, and creating good-paying jobs as a result,” Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards said. “This massive investment and the jobs it will create are a huge win for the people of Acadiana and the entire state. It is proof positive that Louisiana’s ‘all-of-the-above’ approach to energy is growing and diversifying our economy. Thank you to everyone who made this day a reality, and a special thank-you to First Solar for trusting Louisiana to be part of their mission to create a more sustainable future.”
First Solar is unique among the world’s 10 largest solar manufacturers for being the only U.S.-headquartered company and not manufacturing in China. The company’s tellurium-based semiconductor, which allows it to avoid any dependence on Chinese crystalline silicon supply chains, is the second most common photovoltaic technology available today.
“We are pleased to partner with the state of Louisiana as we lean into our commitment to creating enduring value for America by expanding our solar manufacturing footprint and the domestic value chains that enable it,” said Mark Widmar, chief executive officer, First Solar. “As we evaluated our options, Louisiana’s ability to deliver the talent we need stood out, thanks to its extensive workforce development initiatives and the presence of academic institutions such as the University of Louisiana at Lafayette which now features a world-class solar energy lab.”
Widmar added: “In bringing our unique, fully vertically integrated solar manufacturing model to Louisiana, we expect the plant to mirror the commitment to Responsible Solar evident at every First Solar manufacturing facility, which are among the cleanest, safest, and most diverse in the industry. We are proud that our investment in American manufacturing will create stable, good-paying manufacturing jobs and economic and social value in the state.”
The new Louisiana facility will produce First Solar’s Series 7 modules, which are expected to be manufactured with 100% U.S.-made components identified in the current domestic content guidance issued by the U.S. Department of Treasury. First Solar anticipates that once the new factory is completed and ramped, Series 7 modules will account for over two thirds of its annual domestic nameplate capacity. Series 7 modules currently produced at the company’s Ohio facility are already manufactured with US-made glass and steel.
About First Solar, Inc.
First Solar is a leading American solar technology company and global provider of responsibly produced eco-efficient solar modules advancing the fight against climate change. Developed at R&D labs in California and Ohio, the company’s advanced thin film PV modules represent the next generation of solar technologies, providing a competitive, high-performance, lower-carbon alternative to conventional crystalline silicon PV modules. From raw material sourcing and manufacturing through end-of-life module recycling, First Solar’s approach to technology embodies sustainability and a responsibility towards people and the planet. For more information, please visit www.firstsolar.com.
Photo caption: First Solar, the largest solar energy manufacturer in the Western Hemisphere, announced Thursday that it will build its fifth U.S. manufacturing facility in New Iberia, La. The proximity to UL Lafayette, particularly its Louisiana Solar Energy Lab (above), will enable collaboration between the University and First Solar in a range of areas, including research, testing and training. Photo credit: University of Louisiana at Lafayette