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REC Silicon Washington closure won't affect Butte, spokesman says

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REC Silicon's Butte plant remains unaffected by the closure of the Moses Lake, Washington, facility, a company spokesperson told The Montana Standard Monday.

The Norway-based REC Silicon ASA has two plants in the United States. Besides the Butte plant, 10 miles west of town, the other REC Silicon is in Moses Lake, about 100 miles southwest of Spokane.

The Moses Lake plant, which produces polysilicon used in solar panels, is facing what the company calls a temporary shutdown of operation due to a trade war with China on solar panels.

"We're laying off zero," said Chris Bowes, director of investor relations and global resources for REC Silicon.

Bowes said the Moses Lake employees, which number 410, will continue on at the plant doing maintenance work that normally the company would have hired contractors to do. The plant anticipates it can reopen in June.

Bowes said the company will spend the next four months selling off its existing inventory. The Moses Lake plant has "some backlog" of solar panels.

The Butte plant makes “a very small amount” of polysilicon for solar panels, so it has been unaffected by the trade war, said Francine Sullivan, vice president of development and legal for REC Silicon. Sullivan called it a “secondary product” for the Butte plant.

The local plant, which employs 255 people, produces primarily silane gas and electronic grade polysilicon. The polysilicon products manufactured in the Butte-based plant go into computer chips, touch screens on cell phones, computer screens and television screens, said Sharon Palmteron, community relations for REC Silicon.

The Moses Lake-based plant could not access the Chinese solar panel market during the fourth quarter, which resulted in lower sales than the company previously anticipated, according to a news release.

U.S. Sen. Jon Tester, D-Montana, met with Chinese trade representatives in late January to encourage China to open up polysilicon trade for solar panels. China is the lead purchaser of solar-grade polysilicon, used to make solar panels, according to a news release from Tester’s office.

Sullivan said Tester is supportive of REC Silicon and that he is trying to help open up the solar panel market because the Moses Lake plant’s closure puts stress on the rest of the company.

“He’s certainly been very supportive of us,” Sullivan said. 

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Environmental and natural resources reporter for the Montana Standard.

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