"It´s new technology, it´s timely and it´s an eco-product. It´s perfect," said Mazomanie village President Scott Stokes.
Groundbreaking for the first phase of the project will be June 9. A $30 million, 175,000-square-foot factory will be built and 40 to 45 employees will be hired to manufacture tempered glass panels.
Weeks after the start of that building, construction could begin on a $30 million, 75,000-square-foot expansion that will house the second part of the operation: glass panels with a special high-tech coating on one side, called a transparent conductive oxide coating.
It is the "integral part of the solar cell," said Bob Bond, president of Cardinal Glass´ solar technology division. "It´s transparent because it has to allow the sunlight to come in, and once the electrons are activated and moving within the solar cell, the conductive part sweeps the current out of the cell and onto the electrical grid."
The two types of glass panels are assembled by another company into "thin film" solar photovoltaic panels, the newest generation of that type of solar panel, Bond said.
The second phase of the factory is expected to boost employment to 120. The first portion is expected to begin operating in spring 2009 -- a quick start because of rapidly increasing demand for the solar photovoltaic panels worldwide, Bond said. They´re intended not only for rooftop placement but also for large field arrays for the electrical grid.
"The plant essentially will be sold out before it starts (production). That´s kind of nice," Bond said. He said the factory will operate 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
Privately owned Cardinal Glass, founded in Minneapolis in 1962, got into the field of thin-film solar photovoltaic panels about six months ago, Bond said, and already has four other Cardinal Solar Technologies plants producing them in Tomah; Atlanta; Durant, Okla.; and Chehalis, Wash. The glass itself is made in Portage.
Of Cardinal´s 28 plants around the U.S., the Mazomanie factory will be the company´s eighth in Wisconsin.
The new factory was supposed to be built in Spring Green, about 15 miles farther west, across from another Cardinal Glass factory that´s been open for about 28 years. The longtime employer makes insulated window glass for homes. It also builds equipment for that factory and others making the residential tempered panes.
At its peak, the existing Spring Green factory employed 1,000; more recently, the work force is down to 700 to 800 because of the slumping housing industry, Bond said.
The Spring Green Village Board had approved plans for the new factory and heavy equipment began clearing the land. But within three weeks, the work abruptly stopped. Residents nearby opposed the project, so they hired an attorney, Bond said. "They had a whole list of demands that would make it very, very difficult to operate," he said.
Neighbors wanted berms and plantings to shield their homes from the factory, said Madison attorney Peter McKeever, of the Garvey McNeil and McGillivray law firm.
"They felt the location for the plant was not an appropriate location, surrounded on three sides by residential housing," McKeever said. "There has been a history of difficulties, with noise, lighting and aesthetic issues, with the existing factory."
The village of Mazomanie is seeking a state Department of Transportation grant to build an access road to Highway 14. The factory site is in a tax incremental financing district, which means the village will make public improvements and get paid back later through higher tax revenues.
In all, about $5 million in upgrades will be needed for the project, including an expansion of the municipal electrical facilities, Stokes said.
The village planning committee and board approved the plan in concept Monday night but will have to vote again June 3, after notifying surrounding property owners.
Gary Harrop, Peoples Community Bank president and chairman of the Mazomanie Community Development Corp., also has been a strong supporter, said Jeff Valek, who will be plant manager. He said jobs will be available for local residents as well as for high-tech employees.
With the rebuilding of Mazomanie´s historic downtown, the new jobs are coming at just the right time, Stokes said. "Mazomanie is a jumping place now," he said.