By Emily Hamann
The Bellingham Business Journal
Bellingham solar panel manufacturer Itek Energy cut the ribbon on its new factory on the Bellingham waterfront on Oct. 4.
“When we had our first meeting about the waterfront, this was the kind of business that we imagined would be down here,” Bellingham Mayor Kelli said, at the event. “Homegrown, able to expand and good for our environment and our green power.”
The Port of Bellingham sold the building to Itek for $1.7 million in a deal approved by the port commissioners in October of 2016. The building, at 800 Cornwall Ave., used to be part of the Georgia-Pacific pulp and paper mill operation on the waterfront. Since the mill closed in 2007, the port and the city have been working to bring back jobs to the area.
The new, 48,000-square-foot warehouse is a major expansion over Itek’s existing 11,000-square-foot facility on Hammer Drive, in the Irongate neighborhood of Bellingham.
The new facility will allow Itek to manufacture both 72-solar-cell solar panel, typically seen on commercial buildings, and its 60-cell panel, used for residential buildings.
“We have installed the most advanced solar panel manufacturing equipment in the world,” Itek founder and CEO John Flanagan said, in a port press release.
At the event, Karl Unterschuetz, Itek director of business development, led a tour of the new assembly line. In the new facility, all of the raw materials are stored onsite, on the north side of the building. Assembled solar panels will leave from the south side of the building.
At the old facility in Irongate, the raw materials are stored in six different buildings throughout the neighborhood.
“That will really improve our efficiency,” Unterschuetz said.
The company will maintain its facility in Irongate to manufacture custom products, according to the port release. The company will also hire 30 new employees, bringing its total employment to 125.
This new factory will allow Itek to more than meet the demand in Washington. Demand continues to escalate in Oregon, California, along the East Coast and internationally.
“The U.S. solar market had it biggest year ever in 2016, and is projected to nearly triple in size over the next five years” Flanagan said, in a port press release.
Ironically, the new building is not solar powered — at least not yet. The roof as it is can’t handle the weight of solar panels.
Unterschuetz said the company is looking into whether a simple retrofit can fix the problem, or if they’ll have to put the solar panels somewhere else on the lot.
At their old facility, Unterschuetz said solar panels on the roofs offset about 20 percent of the power needed to operate.