SolarWorld plans $27M in upgrades to Hillsboro factory

A rooftop solar installation atop SolarWorld's Hillsboro manufacturing plant will generate 1,200 megawatt hours of renewable solar electricity a year.

SolarWorld AG will invest another $27 million in technical upgrades to its Hillsboro factory. The German solar panel-maker's investment in Hillsboro now climbs past $600 million.

SolarWorld on Monday said it plans to invest $27 million in its Hillsboro factory with upgrades aimed at improving the performance of its solar panels.

The new investment will push SolarWorld's total investment in Oregon past $600 million, and marks the fifth anniversary since the German solar panel-maker turned a vacated semiconductor plant into North America's biggest solar panel manufacturing plant.

The work underway will continue through the first quarter of 2013. It involves installing three technology advancements developed by SolarWorld researchers in Germany and Oregon designed to increase the power output of SolarWorld's photovoltaic cells. The company didn't identify the specific upgrades, citing competitive pressure.

SolarWorld began renovating the idled 480,000-square-foot former Komatsu chip plant in August 2007. Then in 2009 it built a new 210,000-square-foot panel-assembly factory and logistics center, followed by another 40,000-square-foot building in 2010. It now occupies 750,000-square-feet of buildings on 103 acres and employs above 1,000 workers.

In a news release, the company said that at its peak it also employed close to 1,000 construction workers and consulting engineers throughout its near-constant upgrades and expansions.

Last year, SolarWorld bought $86 million in goods and services in Oregon and $22 million in Washington.

Gordon Brinser, president of SolarWorld Industries America Inc., said the new plant upgrades — along with a hopeful victory in its ongoing federal trade complaint against Chinese competitors — will help SolarWorld "thrive in a fairly traded solar marketplace."

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