SoloPower moves fast to fend off loan guarantee 'curse'

SoloPower CEO Tim Harris said skeptics don't know very much about SoloPower's business.

SoloPower CEO Tim Harris said skeptics don't know very much about SoloPower's business.

SoloPower Inc. is moving quickly to build out the first production line at its North Portland manufacturing plant.

There’s good reason for it: The quicker the San Jose, Calif.-based maker of thin-film solar energy products gets up and running, the quicker it can get access to a $197 million federally backed loan.

“The way it works is we get the first line up and qualified and that would then freeze up the U.S. (Department of Energy) loan guarantee,” said company CEO Tim Harris.

Construction on SoloPower’s $340 million, 225,250-square-foot manufacturing operation along North Marine Drive is expected to be complete in the next four to six weeks, Harris said.

Some of the manufacturing equipment is already being installed by the company’s 13 Portland-based employees.

The company plans to hire another 10 employees this month, a figure that’s expected to grow again in April with plans to reach 90 by the end of the year.

Production is expected to begin some time mid-summer. Within the next few years, it projects a workforce of 450 and a manufacturing capacity — spread across four lines — of 400 megawatts, or enough to power 400,000 homes.

“Obviously, if you’re hiring people that’s a really good sign that the business is growing and being where you want it to be,” Harris said.

But SoloPower has its share of skeptics, and being part of the U.S. Department of Energy loan program does little to deter cynics.

The program became a source of criticism after last year’s bankruptcy filing by Solyndra LLC, a Fremont, Calif.-based thin-film solar startup that received a $535 million U.S. DOE loan guarantee.

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