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“We’re up against an onslaught of Chinese … solar modules,” said John Carroll, a vice president of Newport, describing those panels as heavily subsidized “compared to what goes on here.”
Carroll said Silicon Energy tailored its product for the Minnesota climate by making especially durable panels. “It costs a little bit more money to install, but it’s going to last four or five times longer,” he said.
The firm had “a rough start in the state of Minnesota” because the Japanese earthquake delayed delivery of equipment needed for the Mountain Iron plant and caused it to miss some of the utility subsidies, he said.
As for the Made in Minnesota mandate, ”It doesn’t hurt, does it?” he said. “Every little bit helps.”
TenKsolar also favors the mandate, but hasn’t been as active as Silicon Energy in seeking it, said tenKsolar CEO Joel Cannon.
Shaver of Silicon Energy and top operators of Newport Partners and their wives have given at least $12,675 in political contributions to Minnesota campaigns since 2009, nearly all of it going to DFLers. Current and former Iron Range politicians have been among the primary legislative recipients, including Metsa, Sen. David Tomassoni, DFL-Chisholm, and Rep. Carly Melin, DFL-Hibbing. Melin has sponsored a bill that would go beyond the larger transportation policy measure and could require Minnesota-manufactured solar panels in all state buildings.
Gov. Mark Dayton and the DFL Senate caucus also have received recent contributions from Newport.
“You don’t win by having your buddies in the Legislature change the law,” Garofalo said.
Shaver defended the push for a Minnesota mandate and called the campaign contributions “a very small amount.
“We’re a very small start-up company,” he said. “We can’t really buy anybody.”
“These amounts … are modest in nature,” Carroll said. “Politics is part of the solar business. That’s the reality.”
Pat Doyle • 612-673-4504