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    Thailand delegation visits Hounsfield as Convalt solar plant project set to begin


    December 2, 2022 - Craig Fox, Watertown Daily Times, N.Y.

     

      Dec. 2—HOUNSFIELD — After losing an entire construction season, Convalt Energy is ready to begin work next week on the massive solar panel manufacturing plant near the Watertown International Airport in the town of Hounsfield.

      Hari Achuthan, CEO and president of Convalt, said Thursday that site work will start Monday or Tuesday on the 300,000-square-foot plant on Route 12F.

      Mr. Achuthan made the announcement on the day that he welcomed a delegation from Thailand to discuss whether the Southeast Asia country would become "a minority investor in the project and the company."

      Three members of the Electricity Generating Authority of Thailand, EGAT — the country's governmental entity responsible for managing energy — are visiting the north country doing their "due diligence" to explore whether the country should become a partner with Convalt, Mr. Achuthan said.

      The group took a tour of the airport site; stopped at a Watertown warehouse where robotics and other equipment is stored before it would be used in the plant; and visited a Convalt greenhouse/solar project in Redwood.

      They also met with company officials and business leaders to learn more about Convalt and the north country.

      The company has been talking with Thailand officials about "a bilateral relationship" for eight months "to see what they can learn from us and what we can learn from them," Mr. Achuthan said.

      With a keen interest in solar power, the country's Electricity Generating Authority is also working on energy projects on a regional basis in Laos, Vietnam, Indonesia and other markets in Asia, he said.

      During a two-hour morning meeting at the airport's business center, Mr. Achuthan laid out the company's plans and explained how the solar panels would be made.

      He stressed the importance of a working relationship with the Jefferson County Industrial Development Agency, which has worked with the company since it first proposed the project two years ago.

      Somkit Praditseree, an EGAT international delegate and a 1986 graduate of Syracuse University's engineering program, said he was impressed with the "private-public relationship" that Convalt has with the JCIDA.

      He told Convalt's management team and a group of local economic development leaders that the company and his country should "cooperate" and work together on solar projects.

      "We have the same goals, the same opportunities," he said.

      Mr. Achuthan and the Thailand delegation will travel to Washington D.C. on Monday to sign a memo of understanding in the office of Sen. Angus S. King, I-Maine, that could lead to a formal arrangement.

      While they are in the nation's capital on Monday, various types of heavy equipment will converge on the airport site that day.

      Slocum Development, Fulton, is the contractor that will clear the site of tree stumps, make the site completely flat and prepare it for construction.

      If all goes well, foundation work will begin in January and February and steel delivered in April, Mr. Achuthan said.

      As part of the monumental undertaking, Phil D. Slocum, president of the Fulton construction firm, said it will involve bringing in 200,000 tons of stone to completely flatten the site so it can handle the massive weight of the plant's footprint.

      "It's a big project," he said.

      Slocum will use a crew of about 15 employees and "everything" in its arsenal — excavators, bulldozers, rollers, trucks and other heavy equipment — to complete the site work, he said.

      To help get the project caught up, the JCIDA has agreed to allow the company to start the site work as it awaits a $25 million federal loan to help finance the project, said JCIDA board chair Robert E. Aliasso Jr.

      He's impressed that Convalt has been able to get Thailand interested in the plant, considered the county's largest economic development project in its history.

      "It's a big deal," Mr. Aliasso said.

      Convalt is building the Hounsfield plant to compete with energy companies in China that have lower labor costs to manufacture solar panels.

      The facility would produce 1.2 million gigawatts of solar panels starting in December 2023. A second plant would go on line in 2025, Mr. Achuthan said.

      The first plant would employ 300 and the second nearly 2,000 workers.

      ___

      (c)2022 Watertown Daily Times (Watertown, N.Y.)

      Visit Watertown Daily Times (Watertown, N.Y.) at www.watertowndailytimes.com

      Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

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