MOSES LAKE — Roughly 100 REC Silicon employees have received layoff notices as a result of the company shutting down production at its facility in Moses Lake.
“We worked very hard to avoid this,” said Francine Sullivan, REC’s vice president for business development. “We continue to fight the fight, and hopefully we can restart the facility soon.”
According to an REC press release, the Norway-based company has placed the Moses Lake plant “in a long-term shutdown” and will maintain enough staff on site to restart production if trade talks with China restore “open, fair and unrestricted access” to U.S. polysilicon producers like REC to the Chinese market.
REC produces nearly pure silicon at its Moses Lake facility for use in making solar cells. China accounts for more than 90 percent of the solar grade polysilicon market worldwide, and after the U.S. imposed tariffs on Chinese made solar panels in 2013, China retaliated with a 57 percent tariff on American-made polysilicon, effectively blocking U.S. suppliers from the world’s largest solar market.
Sullivan said the company has retained enough core employees to keep the facility maintained and ready to restart, and hopes an eventual trade deal with China will provide long-term relief for the company.
According to Sullivan, polysilicon still remains a key priority of the administration of President Donald J. Trump in its ongoing trade talks with China, and in its press release, the company is asking U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer to put polysilicon “on the list of products to be purchased” by the Chinese government as Beijing and Washington attempt to hammer out a final trade deal.
But the key is ending China’s 57 percent tariff on U.S. polysilicon.
“If REC Silicon is able to regain access to the Chinese polysilicon market in the near term, it will rehire its highly skilled employees and restart manufacturing immediately,” the press release said.
Solar power, and the possibility of using polysilicon to make significantly more efficient batteries, are technologies that have a significant future, Sullivan explained.
“We expect enormous growth in the solar market in the next few years,” she said. “We’re a relevant technology, a low-cost producer, and we have a low carbon footprint.”
“We’ve just had to make some difficult decisions,” Sullivan added.
Laid off REC employees will have access to special services available through the state’s WorkSource offices, which are holding orientations on Wednesday at 9 a.m. and again at 1:30 p.m. to help workers navigate state unemployment benefits, assistance for workers laid off as a result of trade disputes, retraining and help looking for work.
Charles H. Featherstone can be reached at email@example.com.