Solar panel maker Qcells expected to announce huge Georgia expansion

Two planned factories could represent the largest clean energy manufacturing investment in U.S. history

Solar panel manufacturer Qcells is expected to announce an expansion in Dalton plus a massive new plant northwest of Atlanta in what could be the largest clean energy manufacturing investment in U.S history, multiple people with knowledge of the company’s plans told the The Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

While the exact amount of the company’s investment was not yet known, Qcells plans to build a new solar factory in Bartow County and develop a second facility near its existing Dalton plant, said people with direct knowledge of the matter who were not authorized to comment publicly ahead of the announcement. The two projects combined are expected to bring roughly 2,600 jobs to the state, two of the people said.

Gov. Brian Kemp is expected to announce the project during the Georgia Chamber of Commerce’s annual “Eggs and Issues” breakfast on Wednesday. A Kemp spokesman declined to comment.

Some details of the company’s plans are said to be fluid and could change ahead of Wednesday’s planned unveiling.

Qcells is owned by South Korea-based Hanwha Solutions and its first Georgia plant that opened in 2019 near Dalton employs roughly 750 workers. Last year, the company began building a new, $171 million facility nearby capable of producing 1.4 gigawatts of Qcells’ solar panels each year. When that expansion opens, it’s expected to create 470 jobs.

With the expected Wednesday announcement, the company appears set to more than double its Georgia-based manufacturing workforce. A Qcells spokeswoman did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

From EV plants to battery factories, Qcells’ announcement is the latest in a flurry of green energy projects heading to the Peach State.

In the past 13 months, EV upstart Rivian (Social Circle) and Hyundai Motor Group (Bryan County) announced plans for sprawling factories to build plug-in vehicles in Georgia, where they have pledged collectively to employ more than 15,000 workers.

In November, Freyr Battery announced plans for a $2.6 billion battery plant in Coweta County where the company will build massive utility-scale storage systems that use batteries to hold electricity from renewable sources like solar and wind. Then, last month, Hyundai and SK announced a joint venture that plans a $4 billion to $5 billion battery assembly plant in Bartow County that will employ 3,500 workers.

While this wave began in late 2021 with Rivian, the passage of President Biden’s signature health care and climate law last August, known as the Inflation Reduction Act (IRA), has supercharged clean energy investments in the state.

Georgia’s two Democratic U.S. senators — Jon Ossoff and Raphael Warnock— were critical votes to pass the health care and climate bill, and Ossoff sponsored significant new solar provisions within it.

The IRA provides $10 billion in tax credits for building new solar manufacturing facilities, plus $30 billion for U.S. manufacturers to make components for solar panels, batteries, wind turbines and to process the minerals needed for renewable energy technologies and electric vehicles.

The law also extended a 30% income tax credit for rooftop solar for 10 years and offers a credit for battery systems that store excess energy when the sun isn’t shining.

While many electric utilities are still heavily reliant on natural gas for generation, many — particularly in the southern half of the country — are turning to solar as they shutter uneconomical coal-fired power plants and attempt to reduce greenhouse gas emissions that are causing climate change.

For utilities like Georgia Power — which says it plans to increase its solar capacity by around 200% by 2035 — the legislation offers investment and production tax credits for solar. Companies like it have the potential to unlock even more savings if they use U.S.-made components.

But supply chain issues and trade disputes with China have slowed solar deployment in the U.S.

Most raw materials and other components needed to build solar panels are still manufactured abroad, particularly in China. The country holds more than an 80% share in all of the various materials needed to produce panels, according to recent analysis by the International Energy Agency.

Democrats have promised the IRA will help end the country’s reliance on China and bring jobs to the U.S. in the process.

At the same time, a Qcells expansion would further cement economic ties between Georgia and South Korea. Georgia opened its Seoul trade office in 1985.

Multiple Georgia governors have visited Korea, and in 2019, Kemp made South Korea his first overseas visit as governor, emphasizing the importance of the partnership.

In 2006, Kia Motors announced it would build its first U.S. factory in West Point near the Alabama border. That project mushroomed into thousands of jobs across not only the Kia plant but the campuses of dozens of suppliers.

The Georgia-Korea partnership kicked into overdrive when SK announced its first Peach State battery factory in Jackson County in 2018. The announcement of the $5.54 billion Hyundai EV plant near the coast followed last May, before the surprise Hyundai-SK joint venture was announced at the end of last year.

Today, Korea is the 10th largest export market for Georgia, and Georgia’s imports from Korea totaled $8.83 billion in 2021.


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