Oct 22 – HOUNSFIELD – Convalt Energy may be able to start work on its massive solar panel factory near Watertown International Airport before hearing of a $25 million loan.
David J. Zembiec, CEO of Jefferson County Economic Development, said he plans to ask his board of directors at its Nov. 3 meeting to allow the company to begin work on the plant site. of 300,000 square feet off Highway 12F in the town of Hounsfield.
“The company will be able to save a few months on construction,” Mr. Zembiec said.
A groundbreaking has been pushed back months while Convalt waits to hear about a loan with X-Caliber Rural Capital, a United States Department of Agriculture approved lender in Irvington, Westchester County.
Convalt applied for a loan through the USDA’s Business and Industry Secured Loan Program.
The company’s chairman and chief executive, Hari Achuthan, said on Friday that before Christmas “it’s the best scenario” to hear about the loan and “in January it’s the worst case scenario.”
“The project will come to fruition,” he said. “There’s a lot to do. There’s a lot of paperwork.”
Site work – which includes leveling the ground on the 88-acre site and removing tree stumps – would begin by the end of November, Achuthan said. Plans are to put the foundations of the plant in place this winter.
He now hopes the plant will be completed by July or August next year.
“I would like to say the 4th of July,” he said.
Last month, the Jefferson County Industrial Development Agency Board of Directors approved a six-month extension — through March 15 — for Convalt and its sister company, DigiCollect, on its land development agreement for allow the business to continue working on the loan. The agreement with JCIDA has just expired.
However, the company would still not be able to start the actual construction of the plant until the financing is in place, Zembiec said.
Mr. Zembiec and JCIDA worked with Convalt on the project.
Bonnie Habyan, director of marketing for X-Caliber, said the loan company’s policy was not to talk about a candidate’s loan application.
Mr Zembiec said X-Caliber needed time to complete its “due diligence” on Convalt’s loan application.
“There are a lot more reviews and requirements for this to be approved,” he said.
X-Caliber offers loans through the USDA’s OneRD Guaranteed Lending Initiative to rural areas with populations under 50,000, according to its website.
Loans range from $1 million to $25 million, with fixed or variable rates over 25 to 30 years.
Loans can be for building start-up businesses that depend on projected future earnings.
The manufacturing plant would create 320 jobs within three years with the potential for hundreds more in the future.
The facility would produce 900 megawatts of solar panels from late 2023 or 2024. Its customers have been notified of the production delay, Achuthan said.
He had originally hoped to start construction in May or June, but it took longer to go through the Hounsfield planning council approval process and he did not expect the loan to be delayed.
To prepare for the plant’s completion, Convalt would use $18 million in solar manufacturing equipment it purchased last year from SunPower, at a former solar manufacturing plant in Hillsboro, Oreg.
The equipment was trucked from Oregon to Watertown. It is now stored in two buildings on the north side of town, in an old junkyard building on North Pearl Street and a World War II factory on Purdy Street which was used by the New York Air Brake factory to make reservoirs.
Convalt is building the Watertown plant to compete with Chinese energy companies that have lower labor costs to manufacture solar panels.
The Watertown facility would sell its solar panels to utility, commercial and residential solar customers in the United States and abroad.
The company also plans to build a second factory on the site.
Plans for the facility DigiCollect, a software company that makes sensors for monitoring home networks and transmission lines, have yet to begin.