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French solar power company eyes Austin for US headquarters

Friday, November 8, 2013 by Michael Kanin

The leading French solar power producer is looking for a North American headquarters and Austin seems to be on its list of possible destinations. Though representatives of the company, Solairedirect, have visited Council offices in recent weeks, it remains unclear whether it will apply for any relocation incentives.


When asked Thursday afternoon if she had heard from Solairedirect, city Economic Development spokeswoman Melissa Alvarado said, “We don’t have any information about that.”


Additionally, company sources confirmed that it would respond to recent Austin Energy requests for proposal for solar generation projects. The utility sets its solar power generation goal at 200 megawatts by 2020. However, it is under pressure from solar advocates to raise that figure.


On Oct. 21, Austin Energy announced that it would seek bids for “for up to 50 megawatts (MW) of solar energy.” Such a deal, said the utility in a press release, would “help Austin Energy meet its 35 percent renewable energy resource goal by 2016 – four years ahead of the 2020 deadline imposed by the Austin City Council.”


It added: “The solar addition also will push Austin Energy further toward achieving its solar goal of 200 MW by 2020.”


Advocates have called on the utility to up its goals by as much as 200 megawatts. Utility officials have been skeptical of the affordability of such a move.


Council members were set to discuss Austin Energy generation matters as part of a subcommittee meeting set for Oct. 31. The meeting was canceled in the wake of massive flooding that struck the Central Texas region last week. Council members have not settled on a new date for that discussion, though it is likely to come in early December.


Solairedirect’s website says the company sees the Southwest as good territory for solar expansion. Specifically, “Solairedirect’s ambition is to take a leading role in establishing the Solar PV Industry in USA and applying the same integrated business model as successfully done in Solairdirect’s subsidiaries,” the site says.


According to company press materials, Solairedirect has 250 employees, and has a presence on “four continents.” As of March 2013, the firm reported 32 of what it calls “solar parks,” and a total generation capacity of 250 megawatts.


Solairedirect also claims “more than 2,500 rooftop installations.” Indeed, a quote on the site attributed to company Chairman Thierry Lepercq, appears to hedge toward that end of the spectrum. “We are going to see the emergence of an entirely new model based on decentralized energy that can be produced anywhere. In a few years time, solar power will begin to take the place of other types of energy,” he opines.


“This will be possible thanks to the combination of an integrated industrial approach and technological innovation which will enable solar energy to be fully integrated into grids and electricity markets. From the outset, this has been our vision at Solairedirect.” 


The company lists two main goals on its website: to “achieve grid parity (with the price of photovoltaic electricity equal to that of conventionally produced electricity) in order to provide competitive energy for all consumers”; and to “make solar electricity the cheapest available type of power in order to represent a significant percentage of the energy mix.”


Austin may be in competition with at least one potential California location for Solairedirect’s headquarters.

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