Solar panel maker, Nusun Inc., sees big opportunity in Columbus, Indiana
Original Article by The Republic
BY BORIS LADWIG
Solar panel maker Nusun Inc. hopes to begin hiring production workers in summer and expects to employ between 30 and 80 by year’s end.
Nusun will buy photovoltaic cells from cell manufacturers and produce cell modules that can be used for application ranging from residences to utility-scale solar farms.
Stout said he initially will invest $825,000 into the building, which includes an expansion of up to 12,000 square feet on the building’s west side, nearly doubling the facility’s size. The total investment, including wages, will reach about $9 million over the next few years, he said.
Per a job creation and investment agreement with Columbus Board of Public Works and Safety, Nusun is required to have 192 full-time employees by the end of 2014 to keep the $825,000 the company will get in government incentives. The city is giving $125,000, Columbus
Redevelopment Commission is adding $100,000, Bartholomew County is chipping in $100,000 and Lawrenceburg is providing $500,000 in gaming funds.
Employees will earn an average $20.31an hour, or $42,000 a year.
Choosing Columbus Stout, an Indiana native who grew up in Delaware County, initially talked to officials there about his proposed operation.
He also considered California, Ohio and Michigan. However, Stout’s wife, Nellie (Goins) Stout, is from Columbus and formerly worked at Cosco, which led him to talk to local officials.
“Columbus opened up their arms to me,” Stout said. Jason Hester, executive director of Columbus Economic Development Board, and his predecessor Corey Carr helped Stout track down incentives and displayed a different mentality than he had encountered elsewhere, he said.
Carr, with whom Stout met first, “was really energetic,” Stout said. Carr said that when he got a call from Stout, he agreed to meet him in Columbus the next day to show him possible locations. He also immediately began working on possible incentives, and said that the speed
with which he was able to secure tax-increment financing and Economic Development Income Tax funds “were critical in shifting Ryan’s interest to Columbus.”
Stout said he has hired four administrative employees and plans to start hiring the majority of the production workers in
mid-summer, with full production beginning in fall.
He said the Columbus area also attracted him because of the high number of educated and highly skilled workers. “We’re very excited … about the work force,” he said.
Hester said CEDB liked Nusun partially because its operations fit into the existing industries and supply network and because the company brings diversity to the city’s manufacturing base. And, Hester said, Nusun is part of a growing industry.
Solar photovoltaic power capacity grew by nearly 13,000 megawatts in Europe in 2010, according to Brussels-based European Photo-Voltaic Industry Association. The energy output of these new PV installations roughly equals the electricity production of two large coal-fired power plants.
EPIA President Ingmar Wilhelm said growth was boosted by “decreasing cost, new applications, strong investor interest and continued political support.”
“More than 70 percent of all new installations come from small and medium-sized PV systems,” Wilhelm said. In contrast, according to Washington, D.C.-based Solar Energy Industries Association, the U.S. in 2010 added 878 megawatts, or less than the Czech Republic, a country with a population of about 10.5 million, or about the same as the populations of Indiana plus Kentucky.
Nonetheless, 2010 was a record year for the U.S. PV industry, with a growth of 102 percent in capacity and a market growth from $3.6 billion in 2009 to $6 billion in 2010, according to SEIA.
The U.S. PV market “showed substantial diversity across market segments, geography, and technologies. Solar is growing quickly across the U.S. at the residential, commercial, and utility scale levels,” SEIA wrote in its annual report.
SEIA wrote that the U.S. market “had grown at an average annual rate of 69 percent over the previous ten years, rising from just 3.9 megawatts in 2000 to 435 MW in 2009.”
“Despite this trend, the U.S. constituted only 6.5 per-cent of global PV demand in 2009.
“The U.S. market is slowed by the complexities of state-by-state differences in regulations, incentives, utilities and financing structures. Smart policies at the federal and state level, as well as a solid understanding of market conditions, are needed to continue and accelerate the growth pattern in the U.S.,” SEIA wrote.
Despite those hurdles, Stout said the U.S. is poised to become the next big solar power market.
However, he said Indiana legislators have not strongly supported renewable energy. They are more inclined to push coal and nuclear power, whereas other nearby states are producing more electricity with renewable alternatives and have more employees in the sectors, he said.
Other than lack of support from legislators, there is no reason for Indiana to have fewer employees in the solar industry than Illinois and
Ohio, he said.
Stout was happy, however, with the employment incentives that he received from the state — though he said Michigan and Illinois, for example, give incentives specifically for renewable energy.
Eric Burch, director for Policy and Outreach of the Indiana Office of Energy Development, said 79 percent of the state’s electricity comes from coal, with the bulk of the rest coming from natural gas.
The number of Indiana employees in the solar industry is “very small,” he said. “Most solar manufacturing is overseas at the moment. Colorado has some manufacturing and Indiana is trying to move that direction,” Burch said. “Our business climate
is better for manufacturing than our (actual) use of the technology due to the lack of significant high solar days.”
Stout said, however, that the world’s leading solar nation, Germany, gets about 19 percent less sun than Indiana. “There’s a lot of misinformation out there,” he said. As a result of those dynamics, Stout said he expects to export about 98 percent of his production.
However, at least one local developer, Michael Greven, said he looks forward to working with Stout. Greven, who owns Eco- Source Inc., a construction management and building technologies consulting firm, has nine solar panels on an apartment complex on Jackson Street. The panels were assembled in Mexico. For other projects he typically buys panels from California and Tennessee.
Stout’s production in Indiana should increase local demand and reduce prices, Greven said. “I’m just thrilled to have a local supplier,” Greven said.