The following article, written by Jon Chavez, appeared February 21, 2015 in The Toledo Blade. Read an excerpt below, view the full article on The Blade’s website.
The Toledo area has neither historic monuments nor top policy makers. But its energy technology is so cutting edge that two top Washington dignitaries braved subzero weather to come have a look.
U.S. Secretary of Energy Ernest Moniz and Fred Hochberg, the chairman and president of the Export-Import Bank of the United States, journeyed to Perrysburg Township Friday to tour Tempe, Ariz.-based First Solar Inc.’s only U.S. solar panel manufacturing plant.
The two men had been invited by company Chief Executive Officer Jim Hughes to visit the plant whenever they wanted.
First they viewed a 30-minute presentation about the company, then got a guided tour of the assembly area where glass sheets are coated with thin-film photovoltaic materials, turned into panels, then tested.
“I was last here in 2011. The step up and efficiency of these panels is remarkable — a 50 percent increase since 2011,” said Mr. Hochberg, whose bank provides financing and insurance for projects overseas so that American companies like First Solar can compete with foreign firms, many of which are state-subsidized and have unfair economic advantages in the marketplace.
“We have worked closely with First Solar on putting these innovative products overseas. Close to 90 to 95 percent has been financed by the Export-Import Bank, so we help them compete against China and against other countries that are also trying to get into the solar field. In the end, we’re helping to put a lot of high-paying jobs in Toledo and throughout the supply chain,” Mr. Hochberg said.
In 2011, the Ex-Im Bank provided $573 million in financing to support First Solar projects in India and Canada. In 2012, the bank provided two loans totaling $57.3 million to help finance the export to India of solar panels made by First Solar.
Mr. Moniz, a nuclear physicist who became Energy Secretary in 2013, had never visited First Solar and came away impressed.
“First Solar is a great success story. I think it bears emphasizing that it really is a unique technology,” he said, referring to the company’s thin-film technology that uses cadmium telluride as its chief element rather than the more widely used silicon.
“This is a technology that is not the most prevalent silicon-based technology. It’s really a high-tech semiconductor approach — thin film — and it’s really grown enormously,” Mr. Moniz said.