BP closes Sydney solar panel factory




Credit: AFP / Natalia Kolesnikova

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BP Solar has announced that it will be closing its NSW solar panel factory in March 2009, resulting in 200 jobs lost.

The factory, which is located in the Sydney Olympic Park, exports 80 to 90 per cent of its panels overseas, but the comparatively small size of the operation mad the Australian branch of BP Solar less competitive with overseas producers, who can produce panels more cheaply and on a larger scale.

"The challenge for solar power is to reduce its costs to the level at which it competes on an equal footing with conventional electricity delivered through the power grid," said global CEO of BP Solar, Reyad Fezzani. "To do this we need to expand at scale and reduce costs."

"We've looked at all options in our Sydney manufacturing site and the physical location, lack of expansion potential and lease agreements just don't make it competitive: the most modern Solar PV manufacturing plants are up to twenty times larger than our Sydney site and we are competing in this global market," he said.

The closure has received mixed reactions from environmental groups.

"While we are certainly not pleased to see clean energy manufacturing leave Australian shores, we accept that this was a commercial decision by a global company looking to deliver the lowest cost solar panels to a growing world market by operating larger scale plants overseas," said Matthew Warren, CEO of the Clean Energy Council, which is based in Victoria.

"Hopefully this will mean more affordable solar energy for Australian households and businesses, making it easier for Australia‚s fast-growing solar industry to deploy solar energy panels on rooftops across the sunniest continent on earth."

But the lack of support from the Federal Government for the solar industry has received criticism by some.

"This is a real lost opportunity for Australia in terms of sustainability and jobs," said John Kaye, a Greens MP for NSW.

"The rest of the world - including British Prime Minister Gordon Brown, French president Nicholas Sarkozy and US President-elect Barack Obama - are talking about investing in a Green New Deal. Australia is missing important opportunities to be part of the new renewable energy revolution."