Massachusetts showed its appreciation for local solar startup Konarka today with $5 million in financing for manufacturing and job creation in the state. Konarka officially opened its first thin-film manufacturing plant in New Bedford, Mass., last October, but the company has yet to announce the start of commercial production at the facility. This latest funding — a long-term loan from the Massachusetts Development Finance Agency and the Massachusetts Renewable Energy Trust — could be a sign that Konarka is getting ready to ramp up its operations — finally.
Konarka has said it plans to hire more than 100 people as it boosts production over next few years. The new plant, which used to be an advanced printing plant for the now-bankrupt Polaroid, will have a production capacity of 1 gigawatt per year when its fully operational.
Spun out from the University of Massachusetts in 2001, Konarka has racked up an impressive list of investors — including oil companies Chevron (s CVX) and Total — raising over $150 million in financing, as well as $20 million in government grants in the U.S. and Europe.
Konarka is already sending samples out to customers from its pilot manufacturing line in Lowell, Mass., where it’s headquartered, and a spokeswoman told us that the company plans to start shipping its first products from the New Bedford plant around the end of the first quarter or the beginning of the second quarter of this year.
The solar markets have not been kind in recent months. Many have cut staff and delayed plants. Earlier this month, thin-film competitor HelioVolt pushed back its own plans for volume production, saying it won’t be shipping its commercial solar material until at least early 2010. And Konarka and the other thin-film startups still have to go up against the 800-pound gorilla in the room — Tempe, Ariz-based First Solar (s FSLR), the largest manufacturer of thin-film solar modules in the world.
But things could be looking up for the solar industry with President Barack Obama signing the stimulus plan yesterday, which includes plenty of cash for clean energy.