Solar plant shines again

| Friday, April 30, 2004

ROSTRAVER TOWNSHIP - In September 2003, John Easoz envisioned the end of the company he helped to establish in the Rostraver Airport industrial park.

"The company's assets were up for auction," Easoz recalled. "At that point, we thought, 'It's over.'"

Several bidders were vying for Ebara Solar's equipment. But like the mythical Phoenix, Solar Power Industries has risen from the ashes of Ebara Solar.

An investor from Florida submitted the successful bid for the equipment.

"We immediately jumped on them," Easoz said. "Their plan was to take the equipment to China. We convinced them it would be quicker, better, to start up here."

China-based King of Fans planned to use the equipment for low voltage applications for garden lights. Instead, Easoz and his partners convinced the investor that the solar cells for the garden lights could be produced at the Rostraver site.

Within a month, Solar Power Industries was established at the former Ebara Solar site.

]Easoz was named executive vice president for the local facility.

After the deal was struck, the airport industrial park's first tenant - in a different form -...was able to remain in the Valley.

About 85 were employed at Ebara Solar when it was shut down in November 2002. Solar Power is slowly restoring those jobs. The plant employs 25, but the workforce is expected to grow this year.

The company is producing two megawatts of power per year. It expects to triple production within three months. Solar Power plans to produce 10 megawatts by the third quarter of this year and 25 to 30 megawatts by 2005.

Increased production will lead to more jobs, Easoz said. Employment should double by the end of the summer. Seventy-five to 100 people are expected to be working at the Rostraver site by 2005.

Ebara Solar was mainly a research and development company, Easoz said. Solar Power Industries is a production facility.

The first step toward production was to refit the Ebara Solar equipment to meet Solar Power's needs.

The company produces solar cells for use in the power industry. The plant manufactures solar cells for sale, produces cells for conversion to modules, and provides power systems for placement on current structures.

Its solar cells are employed in several state parks. In addition, the company's solar cells will be used on a Levin Furniture building in Monroeville.

There are two uses for solar power: heating and production of electric cell panels.

Much of the market is in Asia and Europe. The industry has grown 25 to 35 percent per year over the past seven years.

More than half of solar panel production is in Japan, which is dependent upon foreign power sources. The U.S. controls about 10 percent of the market.

Solar power was a hot concept during the energy crunches of the 1970s. But the cost of production limited its acceptance in U.S. markets. The cost of producing solar cells has dropped by one-third over the past three decades. That trend has grown the industry, Easoz said.

An Ebara founder, Easoz previously served as vice president of engineering. Dick Rosey was president of Ebara Solar and is now vice president of marketing and sales for Solar Power Industries.

The two have known each other since their days as Westinghouse employees.

In 1990, they were furloughed and decided to go into business for themselves. They spent nearly three years searching for investors for their proposed company. The two eventually hooked up with Ebara Corp.

Ebara Solar operated for nine years in Rostraver Township.

Financial troubles with the parent company signaled a change for the Rostraver plant. Established in the early 1900s, Ebara Corp. recorded its first annual loss in 2002.

Eventually, Ebara Solar ceased to exist, and Solar Power Industries took its place in the local market.

Many Solar Power Industries employees used to work at Ebara Solar. Newly hired operators and technicians require little prior technical training in the solar field.

"Since we're unique, we feel the need to do most of our own training," Easoz said.

Recalled Ebara Solar workers are reinventing themselves at Solar Power Industries. Paul Schmidt, of North Huntingdon Township, managed crystal production at Ebara Solar. He manages shipping and receiving for Solar Power Industries.

Mike Rosinsky, of Perryopolis, served as the facilities manager for Ebara Solar. He is facilities and safety manager for Solar Power Industries.

"The doors were closed and we were sent home," Rosinsky said. "Now, they're reopened. It's a start-up company with good results.

"It's good for the community and good for the economy."

Easoz said he knew Ebara Solar's workforce was a good one.

"It has been easy to hire the same people," he added.

Easoz said the Rostraver plant has come a long way in the past six-plus months. Solar Power Industries has produced more solar cells in that time than Ebara did in nine years.

King of Fans purchased the building, a sign of the parent company's commitment to the Mid-Mon Valley.

"In September, I was within days or even hours of thinking I was going to have to look for a new career," Easoz said.

Well, he's found one.

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