MOUNTAIN IRON, MN—Heliene Inc. is restarting production in a once shuttered northern Minnesota solar panel manufacturing plant here. The plant was previously occupied by the solar company Silicon Energy and will be retooled with the help of a $3.5 million state loan package. Ontario-based Heliene, Inc. has begun operations in the 25,000-square-foot factory, and it plans to hire 130 employees by September.
The facility is a remnant of Minnesota’s small solar manufacturing industry that largely disappeared after a subsidy program called “Made In Minnesota” ended in 2017. Heliene was a participant, but nearly all the other companies in the program have closed their facilities in the state or gone out of business.
Liz Lucente, general counsel and communications’ director for the Minnesota Solar Energy Industries Association, said in a statement that her organization “is pleased to have the newest and most efficient solar module manufacturing facility in the United States operating in the state of Minnesota… especially after losing local manufacturers in the state last year.”
The Trump Administration’s solar tariffs have triggered an estimated $1 billion in new investments in U.S. solar manufacturing but at the same time led companies to cancel or freeze more than $2.5 billion worth of projects, Reuters reported last month. For Heliene, the impact is mixed. Because hardly any solar panel components are manufactured in the United States, the company will pay a 30 percent tariff this year on components from Asian and European companies.
The Mountain Iron factory will produce 1,500 panels a day and more than 500,000 annually. A panel will take just 40 minutes to complete, he said, with sophisticated machinery that includes robotics. Those panels collectively could produce 120 to 140 megawatts of electricity, an amount larger than any solar farm in Minnesota.
Another successful sector for Heliene has been community solar gardens, which constitute half of the company’s sales. Minnesota’s growing community solar garden program, the largest in the country, has been a boon for the company, and Illinois may represent the next big market for Heliene.