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Solar power plant goes offshore, 200 jobs lost

In a major blow for the solar power manufacturing industry, British energy group BP has announced that it will close its Sydney BP Solar plant and cull 200 factory workers in March next year to focus on cheaper offshore operations.

BP Solar will cease the production of solar photovoltaic (PV) power cells and panels from its Sydney Olympic Park plant, instead focusing its operations at “larger scale plants in lowest cost manufacturing countries”, according to a press statement from the company.

While the news coincides with a global push to ‘tighten the belt’, with various Australian manufacturing plants closing, it suggests that not even green energy is sustainable energy.

The news also follows a new Federal Government initiative, Re-Tooling for Climate Change, offering grants of up to $50,000 to factories that enlist new technology — such as solar power cells and panels — that improve energy or water efficiency of production processes.

BP’s new direction will result in lower costs of solar power for consumers, BP has promised.

The company will be laying-off 200 workers from the manufacturing plant by March next year, however the BP Solar sales and marketing team will continue their activities, and attempt to grow sales in the region.

“The challenge for solar power is to reduce its costs to the level at which it competes on an equal footing with conventional electricity delivered through the power grid. To do this we need to expand at scale and reduce costs,“ said BP Solar global CEO, Reyad Fezzani.

“We’ve looked at all options in our Sydney manufacturing site and the physical location, lack of expansion potential and lease agreements just don’t make it competitive: the most modern Solar PV manufacturing plants are up to twenty times larger than our Sydney site and we are competing in this global market.

“It is a sad day for us as a Company and for the Sydney plant. We deeply regret the job losses that will result from the closure and are talking to staff today about what this means for them. I’d like to publicly thank the BP Solar staff at Sydney Olympic Park for their commitment to the company over the years.”

Fezzani says BP is investing US$1.5 billion globally per year into researching and producing alternative energy, building material, and low-carbon energy businesses.

“BP Solar is a material part of BP’s Alternative Energy portfolio, and it needs to compete for investment and demonstrate profitable returns, just like our other businesses in the BP Group. Faced with a tough external environment, and an increasingly competitive solar market, we are focussing hard and listening to our customers,” he said.

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