HOUNSFIELD – The businessman who planned to build a solar panel manufacturing plant near the airport received sobering news when he learned the planning council would not approve the plant of 350,000 square feet next month.
Planning Board Chair Yvonne M. Podvin told Hari Achuthan, CEO of Convalt Energy and DigiCollect, and members of her management team that the earliest it could be done would be May.
She warned him that the two companies still do not own the proposed business park land near Watertown International Airport on Route 12F in the town of Hounsfield.
The Jefferson County Industrial Development Agency must sell the land to Convalt before the project can receive site plan approval, she said.
Mr Achuthan said he was frustrated that the project had not moved forward, citing that National Grid had informed him that it would cost $19million and two years to bring power to the site.
“I can tell you right now that we are pregnant with complications,” he said. “It’s not easy to do that.”
After a few tense moments, both parties seemed to understand what they were going to do over the next few months to get the project approved.
“We are ready to work with you,” Mr. Achuthan said.
Michael Wiser, the company’s chief strategy officer, blamed himself for the misunderstanding, thinking the Planning Board approval process could take just two months.
A project of this size would normally take six to eight months or possibly longer, Ms Podvin said afterwards.
Company officials said they plan to return for the April 1 planning board meeting. By then, JCIDA will need to apply for a land division and the company will need to submit a full set of plans before the process can proceed.
After the meeting, Marshall Weir, deputy executive director of Jefferson County Economic Development, JCIDA’s sister organization, said he hoped the agency would approve a tax abatement project in March, which would allow the process to approval from the city to move forward.
Despite a delay in the process, Mr. Achuthan promised after the meeting that the solar manufacturing plant would be operational by the end of the year.
“Maybe part of the production, maybe not all of it, but part,” he said.
He also said the company would go it alone to power the site.
The solar manufacturing plant would initially employ between 200 and 210 workers, with 60 to 70 working per shift, Wiser said.
The company purchased equipment from a solar panel manufacturing plant in Oregon. The 115,000 pieces of equipment have been dismantled and all are packed and ready to be transported by rail to the north of the country, Mr Achuthan said.
He also recently offered to buy an old hydroelectric plant from the city to renovate it and use it for some of the plant’s energy.
If the project is fully developed, the Convalt plant could create 4,555 jobs in 10 years, according to the company.
Its sister company, DigiCollect, a software company that makes sensors for monitoring home networks and transmission lines, would also build a 50,000 square foot facility near the airport.