Austin Reaches for the Sun

Council considers incentives for solar tech company

After inking a high-profile economic development agreement with Facebook, the city is set to adopt an agreement with another company that burnishes Austin's high tech credentials.

The city is proposing a 10-year contract with Delaware-based SunPower, a company that creates and installs solar technology, including cells, panels, and entire solar-power systems. According to the city's Economic Growth and Redevelop­ment Services Office, SunPower "is the market share leader in commercial and residential solar installations in the United States and is the third largest solar company world-wide based on 2009 revenues of $1.52 billion."

As was the case with the city's recent agreements with Facebook and Hanger Orthopedic Group, the incentives – taking the form of cash grants and bolstered by an additional $2.5 million from the Texas Enterprise Fund – are tied to results the company must achieve. The agreement calls for the creation of 450 jobs by the end of 2014, with 115 created by the end of 2011, 125 more by the end of 2012 and again in 2013, and the remaining 85 created by the end of 2014. The city will pay SunPower $233 for each full-time job – estimated at an average yearly wage of $70,000 – created and held for the duration of the contract. However, yearly payouts are capped at $104,850, with the overall grant capped at $901,710. In addition, SunPower must also invest $7.5 million in plant improvements by the end of 2013 and $2.5 million in equipment by the end of 2014. They must also locate within the city's eastern Desired Development Zone, adhere to the city's minority- and women-owned business program ordinance in regard to plant improvements, and submit a yearly certificate of compliance.

City Council action is required for the incentives to take hold. Council will convene a special-called 2pm meeting on Dec. 2 to receive a briefing on the proposal. At that point it will set a public hearing, and it will vote on the package at its next meeting, Dec. 9. Citizens can leave comments on the proposal at www.cityofaustin.org through Dec. 5.

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