The new facility is the only manufacturing company of its kind in the U.S.
By Marina Garcia
Mission Solar Energy is the first and only solar cell and module-manufacturing facility in the U.S. and Texas is the company’s headquarters.
Mission hopes to head off Asian imports with its made-in-the-U.S.A. products. It is a company that will make solar panels for installation at local solar farms to fuel the community.
With enough room to build two more factories, the facility can expand quickly, said planning manager Sam Martens of Mission Solar Energy.
Their grand opening was Sept. 22 and they have been in production for a little over two months.
“We create the cells here,” said communications lead Laura Waldrum at Mission Solar Energy. “Then we actually assemble the panels here as well.”
“At the moment, all the panels that are produced here are going to various CPS Energy projects,” Martens said. “Our parent company, OCI Solar Power has a supply agreement with CPS Energy to supply panels for various Alamo projects.”
“Mission Solar Energy’s Alamo projects are to generate clean energy to CPS Energy solar farms,” said Martens.
The first project is equipping Alamo 3 at Loop 1604 and Converse.
“Once this project finishes in November, we will then start supplying to the next Alamo projects and this will probably run through the end of 2016,” Martens said. “The next one will be in Uvalde and these will just go into the general CPS generation profile.”
These Alamo projects are planned solar farms that will ultimately comprise 400 megawatts of utility-scare solar energy to our customers through 25-year purchase power agreements.
“It’ll be part of the city’s energy supply,” Waldrum said.
When the project is complete, it is expected to power 10 percent of San Antonio’s homes with the help of CPS Energy.
The amount of energy during the summer and winter varies because there is no set number when CPS Energy customers use energy throughout the day.
To deliver power to customers, CPS Energy has continued to invest in new infrastructure and make upgrades to existing structures and systems.
Mission Solar Energy did not previously buy panels; OCI solar power purchased the modules for their project from an Asian supplier.
A solar tracker for testing purposes is installed on the grounds of the facility.
The solar tracker will be connected to the factory on Monday.
“A lot of solar panels that you do see in the U.S at the moment, mainly they’re produced in Asia, mostly in China,” Martens said. “There is very little solar panels produced in the U.S. so rather than having all these U.S projects being supplied with panels that are built in Asian countries, we want to have as many of these as possible supplied with panels built here in the U.S.”
Mission Solar Energy created jobs for San Antonio, a key part of the overall CPS project.
“We’re training a lot of our employees through a training program at Alamo Colleges,” Martens said.
“A big impact that we’re seeing right now is just the job creation that we’ve been able to create here,” Waldrum said. “Right now, we have about 240 employees; middle of 2015, we should be up to around 400 employees.”
“I would like to clarify that this program is available only to Mission Solar Energy employees,” said Albert Almanza, director of human resources at Mission Solar Energy, “and is geared specifically toward our operators and technicians in our factory.”
The training, expected to start soon, will produce employees to fill the following positions: industrial engineer, mechanical engineer, mechanical engineering technician, machinery, first line supervisor, mechanics, first line supervisors of production and operating workers, assemblers and fabricators.
The training is at either Northwest Vista College or at the Workforce Center of Excellence, 800 Quintana Road.
The courses being taught are solar manufacturing safety; solar process overview: cell, module, production handling; lean manufacturing with 5S, which stands for short, straighten, sweep, standardize and sustain; six sigma team member training, which is a disciplined, data-driven approach and methodology for eliminating defects in any process from manufacturing to transactional and from product to service; and statistical process control.
The training cost averages $1,418 per trainee.
Salaries range from $10.09-$14.42 per hour at the low end to $28.50-$43.26 per hour at the upper.
“We had an emphasis on trying to procure materials for the construction and everything locally,” Waldrum said. “So there has been an economic impact as far as purchasing from local suppliers and vendors.”
CPS anticipates an eventual financial impact of $1.6 billion.
Mission Solar Energy has 100 megawatts of annual capacity and in July 2015, Mission Solar Energy plans an addition of 200 megawatts of annual panel capacity by adding another line in the factory.
For more information, visit www.missionsolar.com, cpsenergy.com or Alamo.edu/ewd/atc