Canada's Heliene plans new US solar panel and cell factory
[1/2]Panels are given the final electroluminescence and AI visual inspections at Heliene's solar panel factory in Iron Mountain, Minnesota, U.S. in this undated handout image. Heliene/Handout via REUTERS/File Photo
July 24 (Reuters) - Canadian solar panel maker Heliene is planning a major expansion of its U.S. manufacturing operations with a new Minnesota factory that will produce both modules and cells, its chief executive told Reuters.
The company, which already makes panels in Iron Mountain, Minnesota and Ontario, Canada, is the latest to commit to new U.S. solar production since passage last year of President Joe Biden's Inflation Reduction Act, which incentivizes domestic manufacturing of clean energy equipment with tax credits for both producers and buyers.
Heliene, which is privately held, will spend about $145 million on the new facility, which will be in the Minneapolis-St. Paul area. It will have an annual capacity of about one gigawatt of modules and 1.5 gigawatts of cells, CEO Martin Pochtaruk said in an interview last week.
Heliene's plans have not been previously reported.
The expansion, which will double the company's module production capacity, is possible thanks to an investment this year from New York investment fund Orion Infrastructure Capital (OIC), Pochtaruk said. The fund contributed $5 million in equity to Heliene and $150 million in credit for the new facility.
It was Heliene's first ever equity raise.
"We've been in business since 2010, being a family-owned and run company," Pochtaruk said. "These are large investments."
A spokesperson for OIC said the firm has been evaluating potential investments in the domestic solar supply chain since passage of the IRA. OIC was drawn to Heliene because of its strong customer base and experienced management team that has led the small producer through a challenging market for U.S. panel makers who compete with cheap imports.
Heliene is still looking for a site for its new factory, which it expects will begin producing modules in 2024 and cells in 2025, Pochtaruk said.
It will be the company's first foray into cell production.
To qualify for a bonus 10% tax credit under the IRA, 40% of the cost of a project's components must be made in the United States. Cells, the building blocks of solar panels, make up a large piece of that puzzle. There is no current U.S. supply of polysilicon-based cells.
Italy's Enel (ENEI.MI) and South Korea's Hanwha (000880.KS) have also announced plans to set up solar cell manufacturing in the United States in recent months.
Heliene is also seeking to source other panel components domestically to help customers qualify for the bonus credit, Pochtaruk said.
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