Saint-Gobain to open first concentrated solar thermal power mirror factory in US

The facility is designed to manufacture mirrors for concentrated solar power systems from tower to troughs. Saint-Gobain is the second large mirror maker to locate a facility in the West Valley. New manufacturing facility in Goodyear, Arizona, highlights Saint-Gobain’s commitment to innovation in renewable energies, concentrated solar power technology.

A Pennsylvania-based building-materials and glass company said Tuesday that it will open its first North American solar-manufacturing facility in Goodyear by the end of 2011, supplying the area with 50 new jobs.

Saint-Gobain Solar will take up about 140,000 square feet on the southern end of the former Rubbermaid building on the northwestern corner of Cotton Lane and Arizona 85, said Paula Ilardo, Goodyear’s economic-development director.

The company will build solar mirrors for companies that run what are called concentrated solar plants. Such plants and systems use mirrors to concentrate a large area of sunlight, or solar-thermal energy, onto a small area.

Electrical power is produced when the light is converted to heat, which drives a heat engine (usually a steam turbine) connected to an electrical-power generator.

A Saint-Gobain spokeswoman said the company will make a "multimillion-dollar investment" in Goodyear, but she declined to provide a specific figure.

"It helps establish us as the center for solar manufacturing in the Valley," Ilardo said, pointing to already established solar manufacturers in the city, including Suntech and Tower Automotive. "Saint-Gobain is such an established worldwide company that we are really proud to have them here."

The Goodyear Saint-Gobain facility will primarily supply the domestic market and aims to eventually produce millions of square feet of mirrors. The jobs the company will create are full-time, but the company would not elaborate on pay beyond saying salaries will be "in line with the market."

The company is applying for the Arizona Renewable Energy Tax Incentives Program, which was passed in 2009 by the state Legislature to promote renewable energy in the state.

Companies in solar, wind, geothermal and other renewable-energy industries that expand or relocate to the state are given up to 10 percent refundable income-tax credits and up to a 75 percent reduction on real- and personal-property taxes for up to 15 years.

In exchange for the incentives, companies agree that at least 51 percent of the new full-time employment positions are paid at least 125 percent of the state’s annual median wage. The companies also must pay 80 percent of the health-care insurance costs of new employees.

Saint-Gobain, which has glass and abrasives facilities in Scottsdale, also will receive a federal tax credit from the U.S. Treasury Department for expanding in Arizona. The credit is for 30 percent of the company’s investment in the state.

Goodyear is expected to finalize a development agreement with Saint-Gobain over the next two weeks that will offer the company incentives for public infrastructure. Ilardo declined to say how much the city will offer until the deal is done.

"We worked extremely hard, so we’re glad we’re able to reap the benefits of all the work we did as a city," Ilardo said.

Saint-Gobain’s expansion means more jobs for Arizonans and helps solidify the state as the solar capital of the world, said Don Cardon, Arizona Commerce Authority president and CEO.

"Saint-Gobain is wisely taking advantage of aggressive tax incentives and Arizona’s pro-business climate," he said.

The Goodyear plant’s production capacity is expected to be the equivalent of the annual energy requirements for a city of 150,000, the company said.

The green energy produced using this plant’s mirrors will save up to 320,000 tons of carbon dioxide annually that would have been generated by a coal-fired plant, the company estimates.

Saint-Gobain has mirror plants in Portugal and Germany.

"Our strategic decision to expand manufacturing into the United States confirms the importance of this market in our business portfolio," Fabrice Didier, Saint-Gobain’s managing director, said in statement "The new facility will be working with the best technology available."

The 753,000-square-foot Rubbermaid manufacturing building, 4320 S. Cotton Lane, was built in 1991 and sits on a 47-acre site. With the addition of Saint-Gobain, it will be full again, Ilardo said.

Saint-Gobain will join Schoeller Arca Systems at the facility. Based in the Netherlands, Schoeller Arca makes plastic containers and pallets. It has nearly 154,000 square feet in Goodyear and employs about 60 people, but it plans to increase that to 164.

Livonia, Mich.-based Tower Automotive is leasing nearly 460,000 square feet at the facility, but it has not started operations. It was expected to move in beginning in October 2010. It began making tenant improvements but stopped, Ilardo said.

Tower is a supplier for Stirling Energy Systems, a solar-energy company based in Scottsdale. Tower had expected to develop panels for a Stirling solar plant in California, but the project is on hold while the solar panels are retooled, Ilardo said. The company plans to have at least 100 employees by the end of its first year in operation.

By José Santamarta,