A British businessman vows his company will have an idle polysilicon plant in Pocatello operational by late 2020, along with two related plants that are planned for construction at the same industrial site on the city’s north side.
Raj Basu, owner of the London-based Solargise America LLC, said his company has already purchased the Pocatello plant that Hoku Materials built off Kraft Road but never made operational. He said his company is now working to acquire the 67 acres of land on which the shuttered Hoku plant is located from the Pocatello Development Authority, which owns the property, at the appraised price of $1.2 million.
Basu said his company’s three Pocatello plants will eventually employ a combined 450 workers, with hiring expected to begin early next year and ramping up through 2023.
“To be perfectly honest, I have no doubt we will get this done,” Basu said.
Basu said the former Hoku plant, which Solargise purchased from VA Metals for an undisclosed sum, will play a central role in his company’s plans to launch a vertically integrated business plan. The former Hoku facility will make the raw material his venture will need — high-grade polysilicon. His company also plans to construct a second plant at the Hoku site where the polysilicon pellets will be reformed into cylinders, called ingots. At the third facility, also to be built at the former Hoku site, those ingots will be sliced into what are called wafers.
Some wafers will be sold to companies that will make them into semiconductors for use in electronics. Basu said Solargise America has been in discussions with ON Semiconductor about the possibility of selling some of these Pocatello-produced wafers to ON’s Pocatello plant.
Ingots made in Pocatello will also be sent to Solargise’s planned facilities in Canada, where construction is scheduled to begin in April 2020, Basu said. The Canadian branch of Solargise will manufacture solar panels, which the company will use to build solar farms in the U.S. and India.
Basu acknowledged polysilicon prices have “bottomed out” in recent years, but he explained a plant in Pocatello is good business, nonetheless, because it will enable Solargise to control its entire supply chain and avoid future price and currency fluctuations.
“We are not selling polysilicon. We are adding value,” Basu said. “We want to have control over raw materials for a long time.”
Basu added that the former Pocatello Hoku plant that Solargise purchased will produce a higher quality product than what could be imported from foreign suppliers.
Basu said his company will have to replace some equipment that has already been sold at auction from the former Hoku plant. He anticipates the former Pocatello Hoku polysilicon operation and the two new plants to be built on the same property will be functional within a couple months of one another in late 2020.
Basu said the plants to be built next to the former Hoku facility would likely already be under construction, if not for challenges regarding acquiring the 67-acre property.
The PDA, which administers the city’s tax increment financing districts, hosted a special meeting about Basu’s Pocatello plans on Wednesday morning. Solargise had initially requested that a local entity, called Portneuf Capital LLC, be allowed to purchase the 67 acres from the PDA and then lease the land to Solargise.
The PDA board voted against the arrangement at Wednesday’s meeting at the request of Solargise, however. Basu said legal issues concerning the 67-acre property prompted him to rescind his support of Portneuf Capital purchasing the land and he now wants to purchase the land directly from the PDA.
The PDA also has a meeting scheduled for 11 a.m. this coming Wednesday at Pocatello City Hall, where Solargise will make a presentation about its Pocatello plans.
Backed by Chinese investors, Hoku broke ground on its $700 million Pocatello plant in 2007, intending to make polysilicon for use in solar panels. The plant was nearly finished when the company’s plans fizzled, largely due to a downward shift in the polysilicon market. The plant, which was welcomed with great fanfare by state leaders and represented a bright future in technology for the Pocatello community when construction started, has been empty ever since.