GE’s Colorado solar plant delayed 18 months

GE Energy is putting a solar manufacturing plant in Colorado hold for at least 18 months and instead concentrating on research and development. It has also confirmed layoffs at an existing solar subsidiary due to a collapse in global solar module prices.

In October 2011 General Electric (NYSE: GE) said it was converting a large warehouse it acquired in Aurora, Colo., into a manufacturing plant for its PrimeStar Solar unit, which it had acquired earlier in the year. The plant was to open in 2013 and employ up to 355, with an annual manufacturing capacity of 400 MW of solar panels. It was announced as the largest panel manufacturing facility in the U.S. Aravada, Colo.-based PrimeStar developed its solar energy technology in partnership with the National Renewable Energy Lab in Golden. Colo.

But the global solar panel industry has experienced a severe shake-out in recent months with a spate of bankruptcies and closures.

“Over the past six months the industry has shifted rapidly, resulting in a nearly 50% drop in global module prices due to overcapacity and declining incentives. Given these dynamics, we are putting the build-out of our Aurora, Colo. plant on pause for at least 18-months and focusing our efforts to develop the next generation of solar module technology. This technology will reach a far higher efficiency level and more competitive cost position, and will require modifications to the plant design currently underway,” GE Power & Water Spokeswoman Lindsay Theile said.

GE also said it was downsizing its solar employment numbers to keep costs down and remain competitive. It would not disclose the number of layoffs.

The spokeswoman said the company remains “committed to solar” and is still installing a 23-MW project with Invenergy in Grand Ridge, Ill.

“We continue to invest millions of dollars and conduct more than 600 experiments each week in our research labs to reach the higher efficiency level required of our next gen technology. We look forward to realizing the breakhroughs our investments will yield,” the statement concluded.