North Carolina enters the solar manufacturing market with a new facility in McDowell County. The facility will not only bring jobs to an area where the average income is $25,000 — it will also provide training and jobs in solar for veterans.
Western North Carolina is entering the solar manufacturing market. The Solar Connection plans to open a new photovoltaic manufacturing facility in the area.
The Solar Connection will locate the facility in Marion, a city in McDowell County, North Carolina. The company intends to create dozens of jobs and invest more than $500,000 in McDowell County during the next three years. The average income in the county is $25,000 per year.
The initial set of products will be primarily 250- and 300-watt panels in both mono- and polysilicone options. The new operation intends to partner with area installers and sell the PV modules to them at wholesale prices.
William Boyle is the CEO of Boyle Enterprises, the parent company of The Solar Connection. Mr. Boyle has been in the glass-making business for almost 40 years. When he discovered the similarities between glass and PV module manufacturing, he decided to bring manufacturing back to the U.S. and North Carolina.
Boyle is also a veteran and a life member of the VFW. After speaking with government officials, he began to feel a sense of urgency about bringing solar manufacturing back to the country. “People don’t realize the state of emergency the United States is in regarding energy,” he warned. He also sees a problem as veterans returning home from fighting wars in the Middle East face a bleak job outlook. To remedy this problem, The Solar Connection looks to employ about 100 veterans in manufacturing and installation apprenticeship programs.
Qualified applicants to the program must have been in military service within the past 10 years. There are job openings for both Wounded Warriors and able-bodied veterans. The Solar Connection is discussing the possibility of partnering with McDowell Technical Community College to aid in the educational program. Once the apprenticeship is complete, each veteran will be a certified solar technician with both field and classroom experience.
Each veteran will receive over $1000 per month tax-free during the two-year apprenticeship.
This project will be partially funded by a grant from the One North Carolina Fund. This organization works with local governments to bring in projects that will result in new local jobs. The grant is paid out only after the manufacturing facility has met several criteria pertaining to job creation and financial performance.
One problem that Boyle reports in this multi-year project is getting access to loans from local banks. As his plans to build and develop the facility evolve, affordable money is proving difficult to come by. He speculates that “perhaps it is because the banks are not confident that the U.S. is capable of developing a manufacturing sector in an area that competes with China. But when the new Chinese tariffs are in place, solar PV manufacturing has a chance to thrive in the U.S.”
North Carolina is eager to see what connections can be made between this new PV manufacturer, local installers, and area residents.