By Denver Business Journal

Colorado landed General Electric Co.â¿¿s $300 million thin-film solar-panel factory because of its high score on the companyâ¿¿s five-point checklist used in the site search, company officials said Friday.

The checklist called for a location that offered:

â¿¢ Access to water at reasonable rates;

â¿¢ Access to power at reasonable rates;

â¿¢ The ability to rapidly move into a 700,000-square-foot facility;

â¿¢ Access to a well-trained work force in an area that offered high levels of education;

⿢ A drive of one hour or less to one of GE⿿s existing ⿿centers of excellence⿝ ⿿ in this case, GE⿿s Arvada-based solar technologies division, formerly known as PrimeStar Solar.

> DBJ Special Report: Colorado wins GE solar plant

The decision to choose Aurora ⿿ specifically an existing 200,000-square-foot vacant warehouse at the Majestic Commercenter northeast of Interstate 70 and Tower Road, in the Adams County portion of Aurora ⿿ was made earlier this month ⿿at the highest levels⿝ of the company, said Vic Abate, GE⿿s vice president of renewable energy.

Work on the new plant will start in January and the first solar panels are expected to be rolling off the line by the fourth quarter of 2012, company officials said Friday during a roundtable discussion with reporters in Gov. John Hickenlooperâ¿¿s state Capitol office that included the governor, U.S. Sen. Michael Bennet and Aurora Mayor Ed Tauer. U.S. Rep. Ed Perlmutter, D-Golden, was taking part via conference call; his district includes the GE site.

The panels will be used in large, utility-scale solar power farms as well as commercial-sized systems perched on the roofs of big-box stores, Abate said. The company also will target the residential solar power market, but that will be a lesser priority, he said.

Hiring is expected to start in the first quarter. The plant is likely to offer 355 jobs at wages averaging $50,000, said Jeff Wyatt, CEO of GEâ¿¿s solar technology division.

GE in April announced plans for a $600 million move into solar power manufacturing. The company bought PrimeStar Solar, which developed thin-film solar panels based on technology developed at the National Renewable Energy Laboratory in Golden, and said it planned to build the nationâ¿¿s largest solar panel manufacturing plant.

The announcement kicked off a national competition, with Colorado and other states competing to land the plant, jobs and associated growth.

The plant will start operations in about 200,000 square feet and eventually expand to 700,000 square feet by 2015 â¿¿ the size of 11 football fields, GE officials said. When running at full capacity, the plant will make 400 megawatts worth of panels a year â¿¿ enough to support the power demand of 80,000 homes.

⿿This was a perfect play, we were very lucky to have that lab in our backyard, we have the innovation, the educated workforce and the collaboration that allows a company like GE to ⿿bring good things to life,⿿⿝ Perlmutter said, quoting the company⿿s famous tag line.

Tauer, the Aurora mayor, credited a partnership between the governorâ¿¿s office and local economic development officials for working together to land the plant.

Incentives for the plant came from Colorado, Aurora and Adams County. Local officials offered about $20 million in rebates on sales and use taxes for equipment as well as personal property taxes. The state offered a total of $2.4 million in incentives from two funds: $1.4 million from Colorado⿿s ⿿Strategic Fund,⿝ which pays portions of the total pledged based on the company⿿s actual hiring performance; and $1 million from the ⿿Colorado First⿝ fund, which helps pay for job training.

GE officials said they believe the company will be able to take advantage of between $13 million and $15 million of the total incentive package.

Copyright 2011 American City Business Journals

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