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May 4 – HOUNSFIELD – Convalt Energy has received site plan approval from Hounsfield City Council to begin construction of a 330,000 square foot solar panel manufacturing facility near Watertown International Airport on Highway 12F.

The five-member board of directors unanimously approved the project on Tuesday evening.

“I think this is a big step forward,” said Convalt CEO Hari Achuthan. “We just have a lot of work ahead of us now to do that.”

Mr Achuthan said construction will likely start in July, although he hopes for June. Operations are expected to begin early next year.

“This is the most important step,” he said of the planning board’s approval.

The next step is for Convalt to gather financing documents and submit approvals to the US Department of Agriculture for a loan guarantee.

“And once that’s done, I think we’ll be revolutionary,” he said.

Convalt purchased two Watertown buildings that will be used for storage – the former New York Air Brake building at 100 Purdy Ave. and part of the Black Clawson complex at 511 Pearl St.

The company plans to invest $4 million to renovate the 52,000-square-foot Purdy Avenue structure into 100,000 square feet of space, Jefferson County Economic Development CEO David J. .Zembiec.

A section of the old air brake structure continues to house the Living Waters Fellowship Church. Mr Achuthan said last week that he planned to build a new church near the Purdy Avenue property to replace meeting space.

The Watertown Local Development Corp., also known as the Watertown Trust, approved a $300,000 bridging loan for Convalt on Thursday.

The loan will be combined with another $1.050 million loan from the Jefferson County Industrial Development Agency and the Sackets Harbor Local Development Corp. which will be used for working capital.

Funding from the bridge gap will go to trucking $8 million worth of solar power plant equipment the company purchased from SunPower, a former Oregon solar company. The first of more than 200 trucks carrying the equipment began arriving last week and will be stored at the Purdy Avenue and Pearl Street buildings.

The company plans to employ more than 380 workers in the first three years of the plant.

Times writer Craig Fox contributed to this story.