Tennessee sees delayed return on solar investment

Hemlock Semiconductor laid off staff this week.

Hemlock Semiconductor laid off staff this week. 

It may be years before Hemlock Semiconductor's $1.2 billion polysilicon plant in Clarksville, Tenn., begins paying dividends, following the company’s announcement Monday that it is laying off most of its local workforce.

The announcement reflects a delayed return on investment for Tennessee, which has invested or pledged hundreds of millions of dollars for the state's fledgling solar industry.

A Nashville Business Journal analysis in 2011, drawing on public records from state agencies, found that more than $676 million in state, local and federal dollarshad been invested or committed to Tennessee's solar industry.

According to our research, Tennessee committed $245 million to Hemlock, including things like job training and energy savings. The state committed $83 million to Wacker Chemie AG, a Germany-based company that has delayed the opening of its $1.5 billion plant in East Tennessee until 2015.

Phil Bredesen, who was governor when Hemlock and Wacker Chemie were recruited to Tennessee, also funneled $62 million in stimulus dollars to the state's solar industry, including the creation of the Tennessee Solar Institute.

It is not clear when Hemlock will begin production at its Clarksville plant. Montgomery County Mayor Carolyn Bowers said she was told that could come within 12 or 18 months, but possibly longer.

"Both Wacker and Hemlock would say this book isn't finished yet," Haslam said Monday,The Associated Press reports. "The state decided three or four years ago to make a big investment to be a leader in the production in polysilicon, and that market has gotten saturated. We're sitting where we are today where two folks have made really big investments in the state, but the employment and growth hasn't happened."

From the Nashville Business Journal.

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