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REC to stay open, citing trade talks

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MOSES LAKE — Embattled silicon producer REC Silicon said this week it will not shut down its Moses Lake production facility for March and April as originally promised in early February.

In a news release, the company said it will keep its Moses Lake polysilicon operation open and running at 25 percent capacity “until further notice” as company executives await the results of trade talks between the U.S. and China.

According to REC Vice President for Business Development Francine Sullivan, the move was taken because U.S. trade negotiators in Beijing have made easing Chinese restrictions on polysilicon a priority.

It’s very good news,” Sullivan said. “It’s good that President (Donald) Trump has prioritized us.”

Obama could not solve this problem, but Trump has created leverage,” she said, adding that the company is grateful to the president for being so central to the current trade talks.

We need to be included in the final agreement,” she said.

REC produces polysilicon in Moses Lake used to make solar panels, over 90 percent of which are manufactured in China. In 2013, the Chinese government imposed a steep tariff on U.S.-made polysilicon in a trade dispute over solar panels, and since then, REC has been blocked from selling to Chinese companies.

As a result, REC has laid off several hundred employees in Moses Lake and reduced production to 25 percent.

Sullivan said if the tariffs were lowered and REC again had access to the Chinese polysilicon market, the company could quickly resume production at 100 percent of capacity and rehire a number of employees.

This means jobs, and that’s important to the local economy,” she said.

In early February, REC President and CEO Tore Torvund said the company would close the Moses Lake facility for two months in order to draw down current inventories of solar-grade silicon. The company has another facility, in Butte, Mont., which produces silicon gas — silane — used to make flat panel displays.

Silane gas has not been affected by either the Obama-era trade dispute or the current “trade war” with China.

REC has developed a special, patented process for manufacturing solar-grade silicon that makes it among the lowest cost producers of the product in the world, and currently — according to Torvund — has one customer for that product in Taiwan.