-1Chinese solar company Suntech Power Holdings is primed to become the first recipient of Arizona’s property tax reduction and tax credit incentives policies. With a 100,000 square-foot solar panel manufacturing facility in the works outside of Phoenix, it hopes to ramp up production by fall 2010.

Suntech says the plant will employ 75 people full time from the moment it opens its shipping bay doors. If north American demand for solar panels follows the trrack Suntech expects, it will expand the staff to 150 before the third quarter of 2011. In the long-term, it says it could hire as many as 250.

Suntech chose Phoenix because of its proximity to Arizona State University, home to an influential solar research group. As a state, Arizona also boasts some renewable-positive energy policies that make it easier to build and market solar technology.

Asked about the company’s roadmap, chairman and CEO Zhengrong Shi replied, “Bringing manufacturing jobs to the U.S. is part of Suntech’s vision to grow the solar market in every corner of the world. We are eagerly watching growing markets to see the potential of bringing manufacturing capabilities to markets where we see the compination of rapid local growth and manufacturing cost competitveness.”

Suntech executives also suggested that bringing the plant closer to North American customers will reduce the time, costs and emissions related to shipping solar panels — a perfectly valid claim. Shi said setting up in Arizona is phase one of a broader play toward strategic investment in North America.

“The leadership shown by the U.S. in advancing renewable energy will only improve the environment for further investments in coming years,” he said.

Arizona’s incentives program seems to be working its magic, though some say it might work too well. A supportive environment for renewables will certainly attract new companies in the space and stimulate growth in the local economy. Suntech’s investment is further evidence of this. The rub is that because Suntech is a Chinese-held company, much of the value generated by the Phoenix plant will disappear overseas instead of circulating within Arizona and the U.S.

That said, business folks and renewable energy activists alike have enthusiastic about the new plant. A final site selection will be made in a couple weeks. Suntech is also trumped in the North American market by First Solar, the largest photovoltaics company in the world, headquartered in Phoenix itself.

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