Solar manufacturer Qcells confirms historic Georgia expansion plans

Credit: Natrice Miller/AJC

Credit: Natrice Miller/AJC

Federal and state officials say it is the largest-ever investment in clean energy manufacturing in U.S. history

Solar panel giant Qcells said Wednesday that it will spend $2.5 billion on a massive expansion of its Georgia production footprint, in what the company and federal and state officials say is the largest ever investment in clean energy manufacturing in U.S. history.

The company said it plans to break ground in the first quarter of this year on a new, 3.3-gigawatt plant an hour northwest of Atlanta near Cartersville and expand the capacity of its existing factory in Dalton by 2.1 gigawatts. The new production at both facilities is expected to be online by 2024 and bring 2,500 jobs to the state.

On Monday, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution first reported Qcells’ plans to expand its operations. The project will rank among the largest manufacturing projects in Georgia’s history, and adds to a string of green energy and environmentally conscious projects that promise to bring tens of thousands of new jobs to the Peach State.

In a statement, Qcells — which is owned by the Korean conglomerate Hanwha Solutions — said President Joe Biden’s signature climate change and health care law, known as the Inflation Reduction Act (IRA), helped spur their investment.

The IRA provides $10 billion in tax credits for building new solar manufacturing facilities, plus billions more for manufacturers to make components for solar panels, batteries, and wind turbines in the U.S., among a host of other clean energy incentives.

The votes of Georgia’s two Democratic U.S. senators — Jon Ossoff and Raphael Warnock — were key to the bill’s passage in a narrowly divided upper chamber last year, and Ossoff wrote several of the law’s solar provisions.

Biden, Ossoff and Warnock also connected the dots between Biden’s policies and Qcells’ expansion.

“This investment is a direct result of my economic plan and the Inflation Reduction Act,” Biden said in a statement. “Hanwha’s Qcells investment will create thousands of good-paying jobs in Georgia, many of which won’t require a four-year degree.”

During Gov. Brian Kemp’s tenure in office, a conga line of major development projects — from the Rivian and Hyundai EV plants to several electric vehicle battery plants — have chosen Georgia. The Republican and his allies have said his economic policies helped steer those investments to the state.

Kemp promoted the project Wednesday during the Georgia Chamber of Commerce’s annual “Eggs and Issues” breakfast, but also stressed the need for more funding to house the workforce generated by these major projects.

“We want people to live in the community where they’re working. It cuts down on their logistics. It cuts down on our need for infrastructure,” said Kemp, who will include funding in his spending proposal for workforce housing. “And it quite honestly makes for a better quality of life.”

Georgia Tech President Ángel Cabrera, the leader of one local institution whose graduates are likely to fill roles at Qcells and other clean tech projects, cheered the announcement on Twitter.

“Great news for Georgia and its growing role in renewable energy ... also a reminder that investments in talent, research and innovation pay off!” Cabrera said.

The value of state and local incentives offered to Qcells is not immediately known, but the company is likely to qualify for tax credits for new jobs created, free worker training and other inducements intended to attract manufacturing jobs and investment.

Qcells currently employs 750 people at its plant in Dalton, which opened in 2019 and is already the largest solar panel facility in the Western Hemisphere. Construction is currently underway to grow that plant’s production capacity from 1.7 to 3.1 gigawatts and hire an additional 535 workers, part of an expansion announced last year.

Credit: Natrice Miller / Natrice.Miller@ajc.com

Credit: Natrice Miller / Natrice.Miller@ajc.com

But Wednesday’s announcement takes those expansion plans and supercharges them. Once Qcells’ new facilities are operational, the company says its Georgia plants will be able to produce 8.4 gigawatts of solar to feed the growing global demand for panels. That’s enough to power roughly 6.3 million homes, the company said, and almost twice the total amount of new solar capacity installed in the entire U.S. in the third quarter of 2022.

As scientists warn of the worsening effects of climate change, solar adoption is seen as a key pathway for the electricity sector to reduce emissions of greenhouse gases.

Despite a rise in recent years, the price of solar has fallen over time, leading more electric utilities to embrace the technology as they shutter polluting and uneconomical coal power plants. Solar has also grown in popularity among homeowners and businesses seeking to exert more control over their power bills and reduce their climate impact.

Biden’s National Climate Advisor Ali Zaidi told reporters in a briefing Tuesday that the world is in a “decisive decade” to reduce heat-trapping emissions. He pointed to the Qcells announcement as evidence that the administration’s climate policies are keeping the country and the world on the right path.

“What you see in the Inflation Reduction Act, what you see in the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law, and what you see now in the private investment that’s been catalyzed by these historic pieces of legislation is the work that is necessary for us to meet the moment,” Zaidi said.


A note of disclosure

This coverage is supported by a partnership with 1Earth Fund, the Kendeda Fund and Journalism Funding Partners. You can learn more and support our climate reporting by donating at ajc.com/donate/climate/