Saturday, 19 November 2011

Local solar panel maker has to halt production
16 Nov 2011

AUSTRALIA'S only solar panel maker, SilexSolar, yesterday suspended manufacturing at its Homebush plant saying it had been decimated by Chinese imports, the high dollar and a lack of support from state and federal governments. In August, the company stopped making the cells that went into its solar panels, sourcing them instead from its Chinese partner Hareon, with the loss of about 30 manufacturing jobs.

Another 45 jobs have gone in the round of restructuring announced yesterday, with all panel manufacturing suspended and the plant put under care and maintenance. SilexSolar still employs about 20 people, mostly in sales and marketing. Its future would be decided in the next few months, said Michael Goldsworthy, the chief executive of parent Silex Systems, which paid $6.5 million for the Homebush operation to BP in 2009.

Dr Goldsworthy said solar manufacturers around the world were suffering as China had risen from 6% to 60% of global production in about three years. There was a glut of solar panels, particularly as European countries wound back subsidies, and in the US there were allegations of dumping. In Australia, too, Dr Goldsworthy said, ''Right now, we think we're seeing dumping''. He said it was ironic the decision to suspend manufacturing at this country's only solar plant was occurring just as the carbon price package was finally passing into law.

Australia had been a leader in solar technology but with the wind back of subsidies for small-scale solar under the federal government's renewable-energy target, and with no support in NSW pending a nine-month review of feed-in tariffs by the Independent Pricing and Regulatory Tribunal, there was now ''no value on solar power generated in NSW''.

''It's been disappointing to be honest,'' he said. ''The state government told us to see the federal government and the federal government told us to talk to the state government.'' A spokeswoman for the NSW Energy Minister, Chris Hartcher, said it was ''unusual SilexSolar didn't wait until IPART handed down its draft determination into a fair price for solar before announcing a suspension of activity-given the draft report is due to be released by the end of November''.