York Co. solar plant part of manufacturing trend in the southeast

A Canadian-based solar panel manufacturing facility passed a major hurdle Monday with York County Council voting 4-3 to approve tax incentives for the project off Highway 77.

Silfab Solar aims to get work underway by the end of the year, promising to add 800 jobs and help South Carolina grow into a hub for advanced manufacturing.

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Standing in the project’s way are several Fort Mill neighbors who are worried the plant would increase traffic congestion in an already busy area and that chemicals used in manufacturing could pollute the local air and water.

Concerns from neighbors

Fort Mill is no stranger to growth. According to the U.S. Census, the town has nearly tripled in population since 2010, and the district’s council representative, Debi Cloninger, said everyone can feel it on their local roads.

“I know you have traffic in Lake Wylie but you come to my community any day of the week...and we will show you some traffic,” she said.

Denise Bach speaks to York County Council.
Denise Bach speaks to York County Council.

Denise Bach, a Fort Mill resident, started a petition in opposition to the project, garnering more than 400 signatures. She spoke before council Monday calling them to consider the potential impact on two schools set to open near the proposed facility.

“Our property values and our health are at stake,” she said. “Our school children are potentially at risk and our air soil and water could be impacted by the chemicals they use that have not properly been looked into.”

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The Department of Health and Environmental Control is currently reviewing the permit application for the project and assessing Silfab Solar’s potential air quality impact.

Hope for economic growth

Silfab’s Director of Human Resources, Renee Terreri, said much of the concern around the plant’s environmental impact comes down to misinformation.

“We welcome you to call us and ask us any questions,” she said. “We welcome the opportunity to clarify any data out there that isn’t true.”

She said the truth is in the plant’s economic impact. In addition to 800 jobs starting at an hourly wage of $19 and $60,000 for salaried employees, Silfab will add millions to the tax base, even with the 4 percent tax reduction the council approved.

John Gossett, who also lives in York County, said that’s what won his support.

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“Look at all of the people who are already calling and asking about getting jobs there,” he said. “Pay scale between $20 and $32 an hour, to rich folks that may not sound like a lot. It’s a lot.”

Silfab plans to move into an existing building off Highway 77.
Silfab plans to move into an existing building off Highway 77.

Solar manufacturing on the rise

The Silfab project is part of a rapidly growing domestic solar panel manufacturing scene, much of it focused in the southeast.

While the United States is the second largest global market for solar panels (behind China), the country imports nearly five times the amount of modules it produces. Most of those imports come from southeast Asia, which has lead to a number of politicians supporting tariffs on those panels due to their connection to the Chinese market.

In order to keep costs as low as possible while still increasing solar installations to meet carbon reduction goals, the Biden Administration set high goals and incentives to spur more panel manufacturing in the United States.

The Carolinas have played a large role in that ramp up, with 62 manufacturing facilities and 1100 jobs in the industry across both states.

“You’re looking at a number of fantastic well-paying jobs, that are coming,” Richard Lovegreen, chair of the South Carolina Solar Council said.

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As manager of Greentech Renewables, a solar installation company, Lovegreen has been advocating for efforts ramp up production and economic growth from advanced manufacturing has been a strong selling point.

What’s next for Silfab

Ultimately, that economic growth earned the approval from enough of the York County Council to keep the Silfab Solar project moving forward. Gov. McMaster’s office issued a release Tuesday morning celebrating the announcement and linking to the company’s job postings.

Despite county approval, the project still needs its DHEC permit before the company can begin operations. The agency is hosting a public hearing on the project on Oct. 30.

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