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Friday, June 6, 2008

Georgia's first solar power manufacturer locates in Norcross

The state's first solar power manufacturer will set up shop in Norcross, Gov. Sonny Perdue announced yesterday at the Capitol.

Windows = sun. Statehouse = power. “Sun power.” Get it? Ugh. Forget it.

Suniva, a start-up company co-founded by a former professor at Georgia Tech considered one of the world's leading experts in solar technology, will manufacture silicone-coated high-efficiency cells used in panels to capture the sun's energy. The company plans to invest $75 million in a 60,000-sq.-foot facility on Peachtree Industrial Road that it estimates will bring 100 jobs to the area within the first year.

"This new solar cell facility is a perfect example of the way Georgia’s investment in research and development pays dividends by producing innovative technologies that help companies grow,” Perdue said. “Suniva’s production commitment and highly-qualified workforce will expand our clean energy success as the nation’s renewable energy corridor into the solar arena.”

The company plans to begin production capacity at 32 megawatts but wants to expand to 100 megawatts over the next two years.

Now about the finances.

A touchy moment came when a reporter asked the governor what type of incentives the company received from the state and Gwinnett County to locate in Norcross. Perdue says Suniva received $10.6 million from both entities. Perdue vetoed legislation in April that would've offered tax incentives for solar panel manufacturers — a bill that looked to be written with Suniva in mind, and that Perdue characterized as doing such in his summary explanation.

And here's the crazy thing: From a quick glance, it looks like Perdue saved the state $400,000. Here's his statement from May 14, emphasis added:

House Bill 1249 provides several new tax credits related to solar energy companies establishing or expanding a headquarters in Georgia. I support the location and expansion of clean energy companies in Georgia, but the precedent set by this legislation is too costly to be applied across the board. Specifically, House Bill 1249 provides overly generous tax subsidies for (1) research and development; (2) jobs; and (3) capital construction. It allows the tax credits to be offset against withholding or sales and use taxes owed to the extent the beneficiary’s tax credit exceed its taxable income. The cost of this legislation – that currently benefits only one company in Georgia – is over $4 million in State revenue. Because of my concern that this rich package will be the perceived standard for similar industries in Georgia, I am compelled to VETO House Bill 1249.

And from the AJC's Michael Pearson:

For agreeing to locate in Gwinnett, Suniva will get about $10 million in economic incentives from the state and Gwinnett County, including the elimination of $3.6 million in state sales taxes on manufacturing equipment, according to the governor's office.

Gwinnett, the county's school board and the city of Norcross will cede $4.8 million in property tax revenue as part of the deal, according to the governor's office.

Nick Masino, vice president of the Gwinnett County Chamber of Commerce, said the county's governments will give Suniva a phased 10-year break on real property taxes worth $1.3 million.

The remainder of the county's incentive package comes from a phased five-year abatement on personal property taxes on manufacturing equipment.

Regardless of the numbers, welcome to Norcross, Suniva.

(Photo by Thomas Wheatley)

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