Sun sets on REC plants in Norway

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Leaders of the once-shining but now embattled solar firm Renewable Energy Corp (REC) have given up efforts to maintain production at four plants in Norway. Permanent closures will throw 700 more people out of work in Porsgrunn, Narvik and Glomfjord.

REC's operations in Glomfjord, northern Norway, are among those affected by the plant closures. PHOTO: REC

The news Wednesday morning was not entirely unexpected but terrible for the REC employees who have met production and efficiency goals and thought they had secure jobs with one of Norway’s most successful companies to emerge in recent years. Instead they face turning out the lights at modern facilities in relatively small cities where other employment prospects are bleak.

“This is very sad,” Marit Seim, an REC employee told Norwegian Broadcasting (NRK). “Folks have been very good at gritting their teeth and working, but this is no good situation.”

REC will close two plants at Herøya in Porsgrunn, southwest of Oslo, where around 300 jobs will disappear. An estimated 180 persons will lose their jobs at REC’s production facility in Narvik plus 200 in Glomfjord. Company officials sent a notice to the Oslo Stock Exchange about the plant closures before trading began on Wednesday. Meetings with employees began at 8am.

REC management and many analysts blame overproduction in low-cost countries like China of the solar components REC has been making, and a subsequent sharp dive in prices especially after Chinese competitors entered the market. REC’s plants in its homeland of Norway simply could no longer compete in key production areas.

Government officials and Norway’s welfare agency NAV quickly promised support for laid-off workers and resources to help them find new employment. Extra state funding is likely to be funneled to the communities affected. Terje Tønnesen, director of NAV in Telemark County where the two Porsgrunn plants are located, told NRK, however, that “there’s not much other industrial work waiting for people, like we’ve had earlier when faced with similar situations. So it’s more difficult now.”

The company, headquartered in Sandvika just west of Oslo, posted heavy third-quarter losses but still has major operations in the US and Singapore plus other wafer plants in Porsgrunn and Glomfjord, where REC was established in 1997. It has more than 3,000 employees worldwide and remains one of the world’s leading integrated solar energy firms.

Views and News from Norway/Nina Berglund

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