Nigel Cockroft says the factory at Cecil Commerce Center will be the most technologically advanced solar panel facility in the world.
Climate change and its causes continue to spark political debate in the U.S.
But whether or not you believe the burning of fossil fuels is damaging the environment, nobody objects to the construction of new solar energy facilities, says Nigel Cockroft, general manager for the U.S. and Canada for JinkoSolar Holding Co. Ltd.
“In every survey, very few people find solar problematic or offensive,” Cockroft said Thursday during the fourth-quarter luncheon of JAXUSA Partnership, the economic development division of JAX Chamber.
JinkoSolar began pilot production last month at its Jacksonville solar panel plant, the China-based company’s first manufacturing facility in the U.S.
Cockroft said the plant in AllianceFlorida at Cecil Commerce Center already has more than 100 employees on-site. As previously announced, it expects to have 200 when it becomes fully operational early next year.
The Jacksonville plant will be the world’s most technologically advanced solar panel facility, he said, producing 1.2 million panels a year as it operates 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
“It will be quite a showcase,” Cockroft said during the event at the Hyatt Regency Jacksonville Riverfront. About 400 JAXUSA members and guests attended.
The plant also could increase employment. “If all goes well, we have the opportunity to expand,” he said.
Cockroft said only a few years ago, that kind of panel production would have taken 2,500 to 3,000 employees to operate. However, increased use of automation in the process enables JinkoSolar to operate the plant with 200 workers.
The company is opening the plant in the middle of a trade war between the U.S. and China, but Cockroft said solar panel manufacturers have been dealing with tariffs imposed by several countries in recent years.
“Solar has been very hard-hit,” he said.
“But, it also produced the opportunity to produce cost-effectively here.”
JinkoSolar, the world’s largest solar panel manufacturer, has customers in 88 countries, so building a plant to serve U.S. customers made sense.
It also makes sense for people to use the power of the sun to meet energy needs, Cockroft said.
“The sun rises every day and we can take advantage of it,” he said.
“It’s very dependable and always happening and the fuel is free.”
JinkoSolar agreed to open the $50 million plant with the help of $3.4 million in city and state incentives. Cockroft said the company was impressed during a two-day visit to Jacksonville where, instead of going around town to meet people, city leaders brought all the key players to one place to meet his team.
“We didn’t encounter that anywhere else,” he said.
JinkoSolar isn’t the only foreign company bringing new jobs to Jacksonville. Australia-based Macquarie Group, which opened its Jacksonville office in 2016, was named JAXUSA’s international company of the year.
As Anthony Glenn, head of the Jacksonville office, accepted the award, he said Macquarie has 220 employees in the office “which is way more than we anticipated.”
“We hope to bring at least an additional 100 jobs to Jacksonville,” he said.