Sunday, January 9, 2011

Mississippi Passes $75M Bond Bill for Solar Panel Manufacturer

Mississippi legislators opened their 2011 session Tuesday by passing a $75 million bond bill to provide a loan to a California company that wants to manufacture solar panels in Hattiesburg.

Republican Gov. Haley Barbour is expected to sign the bill, which passed the House 117-2 and Senate 50-0 within the first four hours of the three-month session. It was not immediately clear when the bill would hit Barbour's desk.

Mississippi Development Authority officials said the state will spend about $100,000 to issue the bonds. Stion Corp., based in San Jose, Calif., will repay the $75 million loan, plus interest.

"This outstanding industry will be a real boon to the Pinebelt but real asset to the state of Mississippi," Barbour said in a written statement. "Stion fits with our vision of Mississippi's being recognized as an energy-reliable state."

The state is also providing work force training and tax incentives for the project.

Two hours before lawmakers gaveled to order at noon Tuesday, Barbour was in Hattiesburg announcing that Stion will put a 100-megawatt solar panel production facility in a Sunbeam building. The company, founded in 2006, makes thin-film panels used on residential, industrial and commercial buildings. It already has a plant in California.

MDA deputy director Whit Hughes told lawmakers that Stion executives had arranged to put some manufacturing operations in another state when Mississippi got word of the project and created an incentive package. Hughes would not name the other state.

Officials said the plant could bring as many as 1,000 jobs to south Mississippi over the next six years, with an average salary of about $43,000.

This is the second year in a row for Mississippi lawmakers to pass a multimillion-dollar economic development package on the opening day of the annual session. In 2010, they approved incentives for a German company to build a plant to make stainless steel pipes in the northwestern corner of the state, in Tunica County.

Lawmakers' only significant debate Monday was over whether minority contractors would have a realistic chance of doing business with Stion Corp., through construction or other services.

"We have a sizable number of African-Americans in this state who pay taxes, and we want representation," said Rep. Tyrone Ellis, D-Starkville.

Hughes said Stion values diversity and the company's contracts will be "reflective of the community in which they're locating."

House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Percy Watson, D-Hattiesburg, said Hattiesburg is majority black and in need of jobs.

"Hattiesburg needs it," Watson said of the plant. "Hattiesburg is as depressed as many, many areas of the state."


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