Solar-tracker plant set; 130 jobs coming to San Antonio

‘OCI Enterprises has finalized a joint venture with ERCAM Energy of Spain to create a dual-axis solar tracker manufacturing facility in San Antonio.

The business venture will create about 130 jobs – part of the more than 800 permanent jobs expected to be created in San Antonio under a deal to supply CPS Energy with 400 megawatts of solar energy.

OCI Enterprises, through its subsidiary OCI Energy LLC, will be a majority owner in the new entity, ERCAM Tracker LLC.

ERCAM Tracker will supply solar trackers for the CPS solar project, as well as for other solar projects in the Americas.

Solar trackers follow the sun as it rotates from the east to the west to increase the energy output from solar panels and solar receivers. The dual-axis panels also can track the movement of the sun in the sky through the seasons.

They haven’t announced a location yet for the manufacturing plant, but it’s expected to be up and running by December, said Amy McCool, communications manager with OCI Enterprises in Atlanta.

McCool did not outline a pay range for jobs at the new facility but said it would offer “competitive compensation packages.” Under the terms of the 400 megawatt deal with CPS – it would be one of the largest solar projects in the world – OCI Solar guaranteed 800 permanent jobs with an average salary of $47,000.

McCool said OCI anticipates that more San Antonio jobs announcements with members of its consortium will be made before the end of the year.
The deal calls for the construction of five solar plants around the state over the next four years.

The first, a 50-megawatt plant, will be built in San Antonio, and should come online next year. A second plant, producing 35 megawatts, will be built in an adjacent county.

The third, producing 105 megawatts, will be built within 120 miles of San Antonio.

The construction’s final phases call for a 105-megawatt plant to be built in West Texas and another 105-megawatt plant to be built in North Texas.
The ERCAM Tracker facility is the second manufacturing announcement for the city as part of the CPS 400 megawatt project.

In July, Nexolon America LLC announced it would establish a $100 million manufacturing operation on the South Side to build solar panels. Nexolon America also is establishing its North American headquarters here.

OCI Solar Power has moved its corporate headquarters to San Antonio and has fewer than 20 employees so far, although McCool said that number will keep growing.

“We’re happy to see it all beginning to come together,” said Frank Almaraz, vice president of corporate development and planning for CPS. “These are skilled and professional jobs. We’re not uprooting companies and bringing them here. They’ll be doing job fairs here. It should be a real boost to employment here.”

The 400 megawatt deal garnered international headlines and won praise from advocacy groups.

But last Friday, cable news network CNN aired a seven-minute segment critical of the deal, speculating that CPS could have contracted with U.S. firms that have more experience and alleges that Mayor Julián Castro backed a plan to send millions of dollars overseas. OCI Enterprises is the North American subsidiary of Korea’s OCI Co. Ltd.

Castro refuted the CNN piece in interviews over the weekend and again in an email newsletter Tuesday that called the report “one-sided, incomplete news.”

“In addition to providing 400MW of clean, renewable energy, the contract creates 805 jobs, establishes a manufacturing facility and two corporate headquarters – all right here in San Antonio, not abroad,” Castro’s email said.

The 400-megawatt deal requires the jobs be created in the CPS service area, which includes Bexar County and portions of Atascosa, Bandera, Comal, Guadalupe, Kendall, Medina and Wilson counties.

So far, the projects announced have been slated for southern Bexar County and San Antonio in general, with no mention of other counties.

McCool declined to comment specifically on the CNN piece, but said, “There are no dollars going overseas. OCI Enterprises is headquartered in Atlanta. We have offices here for OCI Chemical and OCI Energy. We’ve already moved the OCI Solar headquarters to San Antonio. We started doing that in July and we’re continuing to fill positions there.”

The CNN segment questioned why OCI won the contract because of the company’s experience and the pricing per kilowatt-hour it offered to CPS Energy. The story quotes “multiple sources familiar with the bids” saying that OCI offered to sell solar power to CPS for 11 cents per kilowatt-hour while another consortium offered a 9.8-cent rate.

CPS does not publicly disclose the cost of individual power contracts.

CPS has said it’s difficult to make a pure per-watt cost comparison of the final companies. Some proposals included so-called “all-in pricing.” Others didn’t include the cost of obtaining the land for solar farms or a manufacturing site.

Some who watched the bidding process unfold say the mayor’s heightened political profile make him a new target for criticism. Castro was on the national stage last month when he presented the keynote address at the Democratic National Convention. He since has traveled to several battleground states as a surrogate for President Barack Obama.

Express-News archives contributed to this report.