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First Solar Doubles Output Capacity in Europe With New Plant

First Solar Inc., the U.S. module maker that last week ousted its chief executive officer, said a German plant that will be Europe’s biggest thin-film factory is now producing at full capacity.

First Solar invested 170 million euros ($232 million) to double annual capacity at its Frankfurt an der Oder site to 500 megawatts, Burkhard von Westerholt, the head of the plant, said as he led a tour today ahead of the inauguration ceremony.

“This is an important signal for the future of the region and the renewable-energy industry present here,” Matthias Platzeck, the state governor of Brandenburg, said at the ceremony. With the new plant, First Solar almost doubled the number of people it employs in Frankfurt to 1,200.

The company will “continously work on” reducing manufacturing costs and increasing efficiency at the new facility, which is the size of about eight soccer fields, von Westerholt said. First Solar’s products compete with modules made from polysilicon, whose price is plunging as Chinese rivals including GCL-Poly Energy Holdings Ltd. expand production.

The site in Frankfurt will produce about 17,000 thin-film modules a day with efficiency levels of 11.7 percent on average, up from 9 percent in 2007, the company said. It adds to a facility that was making 8,500 units a day.

First Solar CEO Rob Gillette stepped down last week after almost doubling output capacity as the market surplus grew and prices for solar panels tumbled. Three solar manufacturers in the U.S. have tipped into bankruptcy this year including Solyndra LLC, recipient of a $535 million U.S. loan guarantee.

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