Updated 1 p.m. Friday
French tech company Soitec received a warm welcome from Gov. Jerry Brown and local leaders—though not from Mother Nature—at a dedication ceremony for its new solar factory in Rancho Bernardo on Friday.
The chilly, windy morning toppled plants, elicited shivers and prompted Soitec CEO André-Jacques Auberton-Hervé to joke that the wind was pushing back against the sun-centered factory.
"I think sun is more pleasant energy than wind," he said.
Brown, along with Mayor Jerry Sanders, Assemblyman Nathan Fletcher (R-San Diego) and energy industry leaders, lauded Soitec for choosing San Diego to host its solar manufacturing and providing jobs in the struggling economy.
"This is a good time," Brown said. "I like to assert we've got more sun available for energy in California than Texas has oil in the ground for their energy."
The company that it would headquarter its solar manufacturing near Sony in Rancho Bernardo, at 16550 Via Esprillo. Soitec, which is based in Grenoble, France, produces semiconductor materials for the electronics and energy industries. At its Rancho Bernardo factory, slated to open next year, the company will produce its fifth generation of concentrator photovoltaic (CPV) modules which are "specifically designed to benefit large-scale utility power plants."
The new factory means 450 on-site jobs and another 1,000 indirect jobs in the region, the company said.
"In a time of economic uncertainty and great difficulty, it's' good to have one day to celebrate something positive," said Fletcher, who has focused on new technology and energy jobs in his mayoral campaign as the key to transforming San Diego.
Brown commended former Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, though not by name, for "setting in motion" many of the state's solar objectives.
"The best we can, we're going to get rid of the obstacles we throw up in your way, try to make it work," Brown said to Soitec leaders.
This week, Soitec finalized the purchase of the 176,000-square-foot facility from Sony, and plans to begin an "extensive upgrade" of the location in early 2012 to have its first phase production line operating by the fourth quarter. The factory also will house Reflexite Soitec Optical Technology LLC, a joint venture announced last month that will produce leading-edge silicone-on-glass (SOG) Fresnel lens plates used in the aforementioned CPV modules. The joint venture will represent 100 of the 450 on-site jobs.
Jessie Knight, chairman and CEO of San Diego Gas & Electric, said Soitec will provide a "tremendous shot in the arm for the local economy."
Sanders has been a key figure from the beginning in getting Soitec to base its manufacturing here, officials said, and Auberton-Hervé said the company is "honored" to be part of the community. Both Sanders and Fletcher said the new factory shows that San Diego is a good place for business.
Other event speakers included Jim Waring, co-founder of CleanTECH San Diego and Timothy Simon, commissioner of the California Public Utilities Commission. San Diego County District Attorney Bonnie Dumanis, City Councilman Todd Gloria and San Diego-native Bill Walton, the former UCLA basketball and NBA star, also were in attendance.