Though Mission Solar Energy has been producing solar panels for much of the summer, local and international partner representatives came together under the United States, Texas and South Korea flags at a grand opening ceremony at the solar panel manufacturing plant at Brooks City Base.
The ceremony, emceed by former WOAI-TV anchor and current real estate broker Cynthia Lee, included the presentation of a video tour of the facility and several speakers, including District 3 Councilmember Rebecca Viagran. The solar plant and Brooks City Base lie within District 3 and, she said, represent a boon to the local economy and neighborhoods.
"The promise of good, high-paying jobs here at Mission Solar could be transformative for this part of town," Viagran said. "The investment here will reverberate throughout the entire city for generations to come ... Today doesn't just mark the opening of a manufacturing facility, it also underscores the incredible things happening on the Southside of San Antonio."
The 240,000 square-foot, $130 million facility is the only N-type solar cell and panel manufacturing facility in Texas and in the U.S.
(Read more about the facility and its technology – and see photos from the production lines – here: Mission Solar Puts San Antonio on New Energy Map.)
"The most recent estimates calculate the impact of jobs created to date to be $137 million – ripple effect into the local economy," Viagran said. CPS Energy projects an almost $700 million total by the time the plant is operating at full capacity, 24/7, in 2015.
Mission Solar will be working through 2017 to fulfill its parent company San Antonio-based OCI Solar Power’s obligation to provide 400 MW to CPS Energy as part of its New Energy Economy. OCI Solar Power is owned by South Korea-based OCI Company.
"Mission Solar Energy is officially open for business," said Alex Kim, president and CEO of Mission Solar Energy, who has made San Antonio his home, hailing from Seoul.
Kim called for the audience to give thanks to the suppliers, the City of San Antonio, and Mission Solar's "vision partner," CPS Energy.
"Through CPS Energy's leadership, San Antonio is quickly becoming a hub for solar energy technology in the U.S.," Kim said. "This is an ideal business climate for our growing company as we aim to launch our product on the world stage.
"Since the industry is so new to this area, it was necessary for us to hire staff outside of (San Antonio), however most of our staff members are from here in San Antonio," Kim said, citing a yearly payroll of $13 million for more than 200 current employees. When Mission Solar is at full capacity next year, more than 400 people will work at the facility. "We have spent $25 million on services and products from our local vendors."
Mission Solar has space for two more facilities of this size on its 85 acres of land at Brooks City Base, which would more than triple the 200 MW per year that the current plant will produce at maximum capacity. This mass production could drive down costs enough to be more competitive with Asian manufacturers, Kim said. The hope is to eventually attract suppliers to set up shop nearby as well.
"The master plan is really to make CPS Energy and San Antonio a force nationwide in solar and this is the first part of it. This is the end of the beginning," said CPS Energy President and CEO Doyle Beneby. "For solar manufacturing, the Southside will be the base because there's room to expand here. If (Mission Solar) grows enough – as we hope it will – eventually, yes, I would think you could see suppliers on this site because they'll reduce a lot of costs by being closer (to panel manufacturing)."
Mission Solar suppliers of materials are based in various international locations including SKC Inc. in South Korea and Kaco in Germany. The latter company now has established a manufacturing facility in San Antonio.
"(In 2011) we put out a bid for, at the time, 50 MW of solar, and we upped the ante to 400 MW. (Sifting though 119 proposals) we found what we thought were really great partners in OCI Solar," Beneby said. "This is about using our means to grow San Antonio. We want to produce electrons that are clean we also want to deliver a jolt to our economy here with great jobs and education investment."
Full disclosure: The Arsenal Group LLC, which publishes the Rivard Report provided consulting services to CPS Energy in 2012. Monika Maeckle, who co-founded the Rivard Report, worked for CPS Energy as director of integrated communications and has now returned to consulting.