Rio Rancho has landed a massive renewable energy manufacturing plant slated to bring 1,500 high-paying jobs by 2014, with more plants possible elsewhere in the state down the line.
Mayor Thomas Swisstack announced Wednesday that the startup company Green2V Green Energy Solutions plans to build its first plant and headquarters in Rio Rancho.
Officials told a festive crowd of more than 200 people that the company intends to invest $1 billion in the state over the next several years, beginning with the 1-million-square-foot solar component manufacturing and research complex in northern Rio Rancho.
Recent setbacks by other solar energy companies with big plans for New Mexico, including the cancellation of Signet Solar’s plant in Belen just last week, did nothing to dampen the enthusiasm of the state, local and business leaders who crowded into the City Council chambers to hear the announcement.
“The message going out to America is that New Mexico is the clean energy state and we are going to be the Solar Valley, like Silicon Valley, for solar energy,” Gov. Bill Richardson told the crowd.
Sen. Jeff Bingaman, who recently returned from a trip to China, which has numerous solar manufacturing plants, said this venture will help keep the U.S. competitive.
“There’s no reason why we in New Mexico who can most benefit from photovoltaic energy and solar energy need to be buying the technology to do that from other parts of the world,” Bingaman said.
Green2V was founded about two years ago by eight former business executives. Its CEO, Bill Sheppard, is a former Intel technology and manufacturing vice president who spent time at the Rio Rancho plant in the 1990s.
“We’ve studied the green energy economy and have recognized a great opportunity,” Sheppard said.
He compared the opportunities in solar energy to the development of microprocessors in the early 1990s. Based on experience in silicon manufacturing processes, he said his company will manage every aspect of solar generating installation, from producing the wafers for solar cells to the financing of generating projects.
“We’re sand-to-kilowatts,” Sheppard said. “We’re different because we manage the entire supply chain.”
He said that by the end of 2014, the Rio Rancho facility will have 1,500 employees with an annual payroll of $64 million. Once its first site is established, Green2V has plans to expand to additional areas in New Mexico, creating up to 3,000 jobs statewide.
“This is another historic day in this city’s young history,” Swisstack said.
Richardson said Green2V will be eligible for state incentives such as the high wage tax and manufacturing investment tax credits and job training funds.
Locally, Rio Rancho city councilors will consider a resolution next week for $500 million in industrial revenue bonds that will enable construction of the plant to begin this summer.
The complex will be built on a 124-acre site on the north side of Paseo del Volcan, immediately west of V. Sue Cleveland High School. The city will buy the land from the State Land Office for about $6.9 million and lease it back to the client.
If the bonds move ahead, construction is scheduled to start this summer, Swisstack said.
Green2V has an agreement with Los Angeles-based private investor GP3 Ltd. to buy the industrial revenue bonds issued by Rio Rancho.
Noreen Scott, president of Rio Rancho Economic Development Corp., which helped recruit Green2V to Rio Rancho, said GP3 is a private philanthropic trust focused on alternative energy.
She said GP3 is working through BBVA Compass bank locally to provide the financing.
Sheppard said the company has private equity investors
but did not give details.
There have been several announcements in recent years of solar companies, many of them receiving state and local incentives, that promised to bring large numbers of jobs to New Mexico. The results have been mixed.
Solar panel manufacturer Advent Solar received $17 million in state investment money and was expected to employ 1,000 by this year. Instead, it has cut its work force to a few dozen.
Signet Solar received $38 million in tax incentives toward a plant it was supposed to build in Belen, creating 600 jobs. Signet canceled the plan after a federal Energy Department loan guarantee fell through.
Germany-based Schott Solar received $130 million in a mix of incentives including tax incentives, city infrastructure improvements and job training funds for the Albuquerque plant that opened last year employing 350 people.
In 2009, Austin, Texasbased startup Solar Array Ventures Inc. said it would build a plant on Albuquerque’s West Side, which would start with 225 jobs and grow to 1,000. Bernalillo County planned to issue $175 million in industrial revenue bonds, waive impact fees and float a bond to build a water line for the plant. Problems with financing have delayed the project indefinitely.
An official familiar with the industry said many solar projects fail because U.S. manufacturing plants cannot compete with lower production costs in China.
“Something that’s different and new makes sense, but if it’s generic, it doesn’t make economic sense,” said Public Regulation Commissioner Jason Marks.
Swisstack said Green2V went through a lengthy application
process that reassured the city the company has sound financial backing.
He is confident that the company founders have the business experience to be successful.
“They are experienced executives of big corporations who have done startups, not just locally but internationally,” Swisstack said.