Officials believe solar plans could light up Georgia’s future

A South Korean solar panel maker says it will invest more than $2.5 billion in two Georgia factories.
Published: Jan. 11, 2023 at 5:16 PM EST
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CARTERSVILLE, Ga. - Clean energy made big news Wednesday in Georgia with the announcement of a multibillion-dollar investment in solar panel manufacturing that will create 2,500 jobs.

The Qcells unit of Hanwha Solutions will spend more than $2.5 billion to build a new 2,000-worker factory and hire 500 more workers for a third phase of an existing factory in North Georgia.

Meanwhile, a nearly 2,000-acre solar farm is being considered in McDuffie County with the promise of increased tax revenue, jobs and cleaner energy.

Both plans come after passage of a climate change bill signed into law in August. The law will direct spending, tax credits and loans to bolster solar panels, home energy efficiency, emission reductions for coal- and gas-powered power plants, and air pollution controls for farms, ports and low-income communities.

The law included provisions from Georgia Sens. Jon Ossoff and Raphael Warnock, both Democrats, allowing companies to claim tax credits for making solar panel parts.

Both senators touted the Qcells plants Wednesday, as did Gov. Brian Kemp and even President Joe Biden:

  • “I’m proud to have helped lead the fight to make Georgia the top state for good-paying, clean energy jobs,” Warnock said.
  • Ossoff said the clean energy law signed by Biden is one of the reasons for the company’s investment – and he expects more in the future. “My goal remains to make Georgia the world leader in advanced energy production,” he said.
  • Kemp highlighted the jobs during the Georgia Chamber’s “Eggs and Issues Breakfast” in Atlanta that marks the state of the legislation session. Kemp credited the business climate in the state, which has particularly recruited electric vehicle and battery plants.
  • Biden described the announcement as “a win for workers, consumers, and our climate,” with the Democrat saying in a statement that it would provide good jobs, reduce American reliance on other countries for solar components, lower the cost of solar panels and help lower carbon emissions.

Qcells expects to supply about 30% of total U.S. solar panel demand by 2027, including making solar panel components usually manufactured outside the United States.

“As demand for clean energy continues to grow nationally, we’re ready to put thousands of people to work creating fully American made and sustainable solar solutions, from raw material to finished panels,” Qcells CEO Justin Lee said in a statement.

Brian Deese, director of Biden’s National Economic Council, said such supply-chain integration will help break China’s stranglehold on solar panel components and untie knots in overseas supply chains.

Deese said the climate change and health care bill is an example of the industrial policy Biden wants to see, “to make sure that innovation is happening here, good job creation is happening here, and we are exporting products in the clean energy economy, not exporting jobs.”

Qcells now makes solar modules capable of generating 1.7 gigawatts of electricity each year at a plant in Dalton, about 75 miles northwest of Atlanta. The company already announced a $171 million second phase there last year to add 470 workers. It said Wednesday it will build a $181 million third phase, hiring an additional 500 workers to push employment there above 1,700.

Warnock, Ossoff and Biden administration officials say Biden’s strategy is working to enhance the nation’s manufacturing base as part of the transition to clean energy.

“I think it’s fair to say that this deal is President Biden’s vision come to life,” Biden clean energy adviser John Podesta told reporters.

The total incentive package from state and local governments wasn’t immediately clear. Qcells could qualify for more than $65 million in state income tax credits, at $5,250 per job over five years, as long as workers make at least $31,300 a year. Local officials have said Qcells workers in Dalton have starting wages of $17 an hour.