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REC eyes reopening, upgrading in Moses Lake

by CHARLES H. FEATHERSTONE
Staff Writer | July 23, 2021 1:00 AM

OSLO, NORWAY — REC Silicon remains committed to reopening its Moses Lake production plant by the end of 2023 and is even considering making a major upgrade to the facility, according to REC Silicon President and CEO Tore Torvund.

Speaking during a quarterly earnings presentation held late Wednesday – early Thursday morning Oslo time – Torvund said restarting the Moses Lake facility would depend, however, on securing customers for the company’s solar-grade silicon, either to make solar panels or as components for the next generation of rechargeable batteries.

“I’m pretty optimistic we will find a commercial reason to restart Moses Lake,” Torvund said.

REC’s Moses Lake production facility was shuttered several years ago following a lengthy trade dispute with China that prevented the company from selling its product to Chinese solar module and panel makers.

REC also produces solar-grade silicon at a facility it partly owns in Yulin, China, and electronics-grade silicon for computer chips and flat panel displays at a plant in Butte, Montana.

Torvund said REC is also looking to upgrade several of the units at its Moses Lake facility to bring them up to the standards of the Yulin joint venture.

“We’re looking to upgrade half of the Moses Lake (silicon) reactors at a cost of $40 million,” he said.

The company has been seeking partners that will either build solar modules and panels in the United States or find alternate uses for the company’s poly silicon, such as anodes to make significantly more efficient rechargeable batteries.

The company is currently working with Seattle-based battery technology startup Group14 Technologies, which hopes to build a major production facility in Moses Lake.

However, Torvund said, while there is a strong push to have the next generation of rechargeable batteries built in the U.S., and REC has been in talks with several battery companies looking for silicon supplies, the company has not signed any formal agreements yet.

He also said the world’s solar panel market is well-established, while silicon-based batteries are a new technology that still needs to be developed.

During the second quarter of 2021, REC posted earnings of $7.9 million on revenue of $35.6 million, up 27% from the same period in 2020, mostly from sales of silicon gas from its Butte facility. However, high spot electricity prices prompted by the heat wave in the western U.S., and a lightning strike that idled production in Butte, ate into the company’s revenue during the quarter, he said.

Torvund also said REC received $8.4 million in loans under the Paycheck Protection Program – $3.9 million for Moses Lake and $4.5 million for Butte – all of which have been forgiven.

Torvund also said the company, which is listed on the Oslobørs, Norway’s stock exchange, has no plans to list on the U.S.-based NASDAQ.

On Thursday trading, REC closed at 16.58 Norwegian kroner ($1.87) per share, up 3.6% for the day.