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First Solar Gets $455.7 Million Guarantees for Canada Plants

First Solar Inc., the world’s largest maker of thin-film solar modules, received $455.7 million of loan guarantees from the U.S. Export-Import Bank to build power projects in Canada.

The company plans to build two plants with a total capacity of 90 megawatts in southern Ontario, the company announced today at a press conference at its Perrysburg, Ohio, factory.

The guarantee is the largest Ex-Im Bank has approved for U.S. solar products shipped abroad and will help President Obama reach a goal of doubling U.S. exports by 2015.

“We’re well on our way” to reaching that target, said Fred Hochberg, chairman and president of the Ex-Im Bank, said in an interview at the plant.

U.S. exports of solar products surged 83 percent last year to $5.63 billion, led by sales of manufacturing equipment and polysilicon, the main component of photovoltaic cells, the Solar Energy Industries Association said in an Aug. 29 report.

The top solar import was photovoltaic modules, worth $2.4 billion. Obama wants to reverse the trend of shipping raw materials abroad and importing finished products from Asia.

“We invent things in the U.S. and then export the jobs and technology,” U.S. Senator Sherrod Brown, an Ohio Democrat, said in a speech at the event. That’s why the First Solar guarantees, which will create domestic manufacturing jobs, are “so important for American workers.”

All of the solar panels produced at Perrysburg plant will be exported, James Brown, president of Tempe, Arizona-based First Solar’s utility systems business group, said in an interview.

Financing Unavailable

The loan guarantees were critical to developing the two Canada projects. “Financing in emerging markets isn’t available at any terms without Ex-Im’s help,” he said. “Banks just don’t understand the technology.”

Ex-Im Bank will guarantee a loan of $236.7 million for a 50-megawatt plant that First Solar is planning in the southern Ontario townships of Amherstburg, Belmont and Walpole, and another loan of $219 million for a 40-megawatt project in St. Clair. The debt will be repaid over 18 years.

Obama in August reaffirmed his vow to double exports to $3.14 trillion by 2015 in an effort to create jobs and counter unemployment that stood at 9.1 percent in July. Delivering on the promise grew more difficult after the Commerce Department reported on Aug. 11 that U.S. sales of goods and services abroad fell 2.3 percent in June, the most since January 2009, as purchases declined from Mexico to China.

Ex-Im Bank approved this year loan guarantees of $118 million for solar projects in India that will use First Solar panels.

First Solar fell $7.56, or 7.8 percent, to $89.38 at 2:20 p.m. in Nasdaq Stock Market trading, amid a broad decline in stock prices. The Standard & Poor’s 500 Index dropped 2.4 percent and the Bloomberg Global Leaders Solar Index was down 5 percent.

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