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Industry heavyweight First Solar announced plans today to build two new manufacturing plants, raising the company’s annual capacity by almost 500 megawatts and nearly doubling the company’s production capacity from 1.4 gigawatts this year to 2.7 gigawatts in 2012.

The expansion is in direct response to strong demand for its thin-film photovoltaic offerings, the company says. Last week, First Solar announced it had signed agreements with seven customers for a 380-megawatt increase in orders for 2011. Most of the new sales are in Europe, reflecting the continued growth that region sees in solar, in part thanks to strong government incentives.

The plants will be built in the U.S. and Vietnam, completed in 2012 and expected to create 600 green jobs each. The U.S. location is notable because the demand for solar appears to be healthy — a recent report by the Solar Energy Industries Association and GTM Research projected that total installed solar capacity in the U.S. this year will increase at least 114 percent over last year.

“These expansions provide proximity to growing U.S. demand while supporting our roadmap to drive down the cost of clean, sustainable solar electricity,” said CEO Rob Gillette in a statement. “Effective government policies provide long-term visibility and enable sustainable markets.”

First Solar is one of the top solar companies in the game. GE recently announced plans to go after a piece of the thin-film solar pie, and Abound Solar has been making gains lately as well — it was recently named by Lux Research as a top IPO contender.

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