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Solar panel plant may be coming to McKeesport's RIDC site

| Tuesday, Aug. 31, 2010

With a $750,000 boost from Harrisburg, McKeesport may get a new solar panel manufacturing plant and up to 225 new jobs in the former U.S. Steel National Works millsite.

"It is an excellent location for us," Robert Bennett said Monday. Bennett, a one-time Westinghouse Electric Corp. executive, is one of five partners in United States Green Energy Corp. of Fredericksburg, Va. "We're looking at a couple possible locations in the RIDC park."

That's the Regional Industrial Development Corp. of Southwestern Pennsylvania's Riverplace Industrial Center of McKeesport.

"A lot of our material suppliers are nearby," Bennett said. "Plus there's manufacturing workforce available."

"They have been working with the (U.S.) Department of Energy and got a clearance on the patented design of this solar panel," city administrator Dennis Pittman said. "They're value-added manufacturing. Those jobs could be paying as much as $25 an hour."

The city's two state representatives referred to the old McKeesport Connecting Railroad roundhouse, "a restored roundhouse at a former steel mill," in their announcement of state funds to purchase equipment for that plant.

City officials said the roundhouse is one of three possible options for Bennett's company.

"They could take the building adjacent to EchoStar," Pittman said. "(Also,) there is some open land over there."

"The building adjacent to EchoStar" refers to an open-air structure next to the call center vacated by EchoStar successor Dish Network earlier this year.

"We looked at a variety of sites in Western Pennsylvania," Bennett said.

The plant he wants to build could hire up to 225 employees over the next three years, though he cautioned against raising false expectations.

"It's a little premature," Bennett said. "We're still sorting out details with (Allegheny County) and the city."

State Rep. Bill Kortz, D-Dravosburg, said the $750,000 grant from the Pennsylvania Energy Development Authority will help Bennett's company to purchase a high flow laminating machine for solar shingles and siding.

"This new machine will be part of the company's planned production facility," state Rep. Marc Gergely, D-White Oak, said. Gergely and Kortz made a joint announcement of the grant over the weekend.

"It is a further demonstration of the state's commitment to investing in green energy technology," Kortz said.

Bennett is familiar with the Pittsburgh region, having lived in the area for 13 years. He spent 30 years with Westinghouse and its affiliates. Bennett was chief operating officer for Westinghouse Environmental & Geotechnical Services Inc., president of Broadwell Corp. which handled hazardous waste disposal, managing director of a Westinghouse division dealing with emissions monitoring systems and regional director of Westinghouse Energy Systems in central and eastern Europe.

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