Va. subsidies nose out Maryland for solar plant


Virginia has nosed out Maryland to win a 20-state competition for a solar panel manufacturing plant, as a joint venture including Solarex Corp. of Frederick decided to accept $5 million in subsidies and build the $20 million plant in Williamsburg, Va.

Amoco/Enron Solar, which is 50 percent owned by Solarex's parent company, Amoco Corp., and 50 percent owned by Houston-based Enron Corp., will use the plant to build solar panels as part of a demonstration project funded by the U.S. Department of Energy.

The plant is slated to develop "thin film" panel technology, which is seen as the next-generation technology that will make solar power more efficient.

Spokeswomen for the joint venture have said the demonstration project will be developed over 15 years, resulting in a "solar farm" that will produce about 1 percent as much electricity as a large utility generating plant.

James D. Fielder, deputy secretary of Maryland's Department of Economic and Employment Development, said Maryland could not match the targeted subsidies Virginia offers solar power companies without legislative action to create a new program and made a business decision not to match Virginia's bid from that state's general programs to keep and attract industry.

"It was as far as we would go, and it was not as far as Virginia would go," Mr. Fielder said, declining to detail Maryland's bid.

Virginia officials would not comment on the pending deal because the state has not made a formal announcement. Virginia has a program that will pay qualifying companies a subsidy for electricity that can be produced by solar equipment they make in the state.

"We were bidding for it, but Williamsburg offered such a giveaway program we couldn't match it," Frederick Mayor Jim Grimes said.

The Virginia deal is not expected to affect Solarex's existing Frederick facility, where more than 200 people work. Last fall, the state of Maryland agreed to lend Solarex $3.7 million toward a $7.7 million expansion of its Frederick plant, a move Solarex President Harvey Forest said then was necessary to keep the company from moving its headquarters to Virginia.

Officials of Enron and Solarex could not be reached for comment yesterday.

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