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A factory in Moses Lake, Wash., which produces polysilicon, a critical ingredient in most solar panels, has reopened thanks to incentives for domestic manufacturing in President Biden’s Inflation Reduction Act. The factory is owned by REC Silicon and has formed a partnership with South Korean company Hanwha Qcells, which aims to invest in U.S. solar panel production. This move is part of an effort to decrease reliance on Chinese and Southeast Asian plants for solar panel manufacturing and revive the domestic supply chain for this technology. Executives hope that this reopening will inspire other companies to follow suit and contribute to the revival of a technology that originated in the United States.

Manufacturers in the United States had largely stopped producing polysilicon due to intense competition from Chinese manufacturers, which benefit from tariffs on solar imports and extensive government support. The Biden administration has been working to revive the U.S. solar manufacturing industry through policies like the Inflation Reduction Act. However, recent increases in solar panel production in China and price drops have affected U.S. manufacturers negatively. Various trade actions and oversupply have made it difficult for U.S. polysilicon producers to export their products.

The American Alliance for Solar Manufacturing Trade Committee has lodged complaints against Cambodia, Malaysia, Thailand, and Vietnam for potentially illegal trade practices, focusing on companies headquartered in China. Moreover, concerns have been raised about forced labor in the production of polysilicon in China and Southeast Asia, making it challenging for solar companies to trace and verify the sources of their panels and components. The only U.S. solar manufacturer maintaining a healthy market share is First Solar, producing thin-film panels that do not rely on polysilicon.

Despite efforts to develop alternative technologies, polysilicon solar panels remain the backbone of the industry. Qcells plans to utilize 100% of the polysilicon produced by REC Silicon in Moses Lake to create solar panels manufactured entirely within the United States. Plans are in place to expand U.S. solar panel production in Georgia, with massive investments announced by Qcells. REC Silicon is ramping up operations in Moses Lake, hiring hundreds of employees and expanding the factory. Executives are optimistic that this move will open new growth opportunities for the plant.

The factory in Moses Lake holds potential for expansion as REC Silicon owns additional land for operations. Executives express interest in offering their product to more customers like Qcells, to produce ingots and wafers domestically. They suggest that the government may need to provide additional incentives to attract investments in manufacturing. The hope is that the reopening of this factory and the increased focus on domestic production of solar panels will boost the solar manufacturing industry in the United States and reduce reliance on foreign manufacturers.

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