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Evergreen Solar to close US silicon wafer factory

Evergreen Solar, which manufactures String Ribbon solar products, has announced the closure of its factory in Devens, Massachusetts, due to stiff competition from China.

By Isabella Kaminski

Despite posting record sales for the fourth quarter of 2010, silicon wafer manufacturer Evergreen Solar says the Devens factory is no longer economically feasible and will shut by the spring.

The company's shipments for the fourth quarter of 2010 increased to 47 MW, at an average selling price of $1.90 per watt, but in December average selling prices dropped 10% from the beginning of the fourth quarter.

Michael El-Hillow,  president and CEO, says: “While overall demand for solar may increase, we expect that significant capacity expansions in low-cost manufacturing regions combined with potential adverse changes in government subsidies in several markets in Europe will likely result in continuing pressure on selling prices throughout 2011."

The closure will cost Evergreen Solar around $340 million in non-cash charges and $150 million in intangible and cash-related pre-payments, and will affect around 800 of the factory's employees.

"Solar manufacturers in China have received considerable government and financial support and, together with their low manufacturing costs, have become price leaders within the industry. While the United States and other western industrial economies are beneficiaries of rapidly declining installation costs of solar energy, we expect the United States will continue to be at a disadvantage from a manufacturing standpoint.”

Evergreen Solar will continue to operate its high temperature filament plant in Midland, Michigan and its wafer facility in Wuhan, China. With approximately 75 MW of installed wafer capacity in Wuhan, it will also continue to supply its outsourcing partner with wafers for conversion into Evergreen Solar-branded solar panels.

The company has decided to focus its future expansion on String Ribbon industry standard size wafers. It expects to begin pilot production of approximately 25 MW by the fourth quarter of 2011.

El-Hillow says: "Preliminary results have been positive and we have also begun in-depth negotiations to obtain significant financial support for our wafer manufacturing expansion on terms similar to what we received for our current wafer facility in Wuhan. Initial interest is high as we have shared the early results of development with potential partners."

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