Silicon plant promotes local economy
By Briana Alzola
Moses Lake — The work of the REC Silicon plants in Moses Lake is doing great things for the local economic growth, Grant County Economic Development Council president Ron Covey said at a meeting May 19 at Big Bend Community College.
“REC is the leader in bringing our county to the forefront worldwide,” Covey said to REC’s president and CEO Tore Torvund at the meeting. “We are a place on the map for companies all over the world and a great deal of that has to do with REC and yourself.”
The world population is growing, Torvund said, and is expected to reach 9 billion people by 2050. In addition to population growth, people are expecting a higher and higher standard of living. As the standard of living increases, more electricity is needed.
To meet this extended energy need, the world must look to renewable energy, like the solar energy REC supplies, Torvund said.
Currently, Germany makes up 50 percent of the world market for solar panels. On a sunny day, they get 30 percent of their power from sun and wind. In Europe, policy states that by 2020, 20 percent of power must be provided by renewable resources. Europe is far ahead of other parts of the world when it comes to these policies, Torvund said, and political decisions should be made in the near future when it comes to energy development.
Solar energy is becoming cheaper to produce, Torvund said. Today, solar panels are 95 percent cheaper than they were 30 years ago. Solar power is the same level of cost and efficiency as natural gas and and will soon be able to compete with coal. Still, even if solar power consumption increases by 30 percent, it will still only account for less than 1 percent of the total energy consumed in the United States.
To create solar power, REC manufactures polysilicon. All the polysilicon for the company is manufactured in the United States. REC is the fifth largest solar company in the world. They bought the plant in Moses Lake in 2002 and added on new plants to the original one in 2009 and 2010. These new plants manufacture two things. The first creates silane gas, which is used at the second plant to make the polysilicon. REC has built new reactors that are more energy intensive and use only about 12 percent of the electricity to create polysilicon than in the traditional method.
“This is changing the whole business for REC and our competition,” Torvund said.
Originally, the plant created about 1,700 tons of polysilicon a year. Today, they create 17,000 metric tons.
As of now, REC has invested about $1.7 billion in its Moses Lake production. When they started in 2003, they had about 160 employees. Now they employee more than 850. These employees make an average of $72,000 a year.
“We have a high-qualified workforce and we pay them well,” Torvund said.
REC is also the highest property taxpayer in Grant County. They support many local initiatives, like solar car races for city seventh graders.
Currently, REC is looking at adding two more administrative buildings to their property, a project that would employ 50 to 100 contractors until the end of the project, estimated to be December 2012.
REC is also considering another investment of $600 million to $800 million to build another plant, which would allow them to produce another 10,000 metric tons of polysilicon a year. The decision on whether or not the company will pursue this project should come in by the end of this year.
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