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If All Goes Well, St. Helens Could See Up To 1,000 New Jobs With Solar Company Expansion

If All Goes Well, St. Helens Could See Up To 1,000 New Jobs With Solar Company Expansion

The city of St. Helens may know, in a matter of a few weeks, if a California firm will locate in St. Helens, bringing a potential 800 to 1,000 much needed jobs to Columbia County.

The city is in discussions with American Hyperion Solar, a firm that could make a $1 billion investment locally.

City Administrator John Walsh said American Hyperion Solar is a manufacturing company that makes solar cells that go into solar panels. They also manufacture solar panels for distribution.

“It’s a well-established, large-scale business,” Walsh told Pamplin Media Group. “Initially, they were looking at both a solar cell manufacturing plant and a solar panel manufacturing plant, both in St. Helens.”

The solar cell manufacturing plant would be located in the city’s industrial park, adjacent to the former Cascades Tissue buildings. Cascades Tissues recently fully closed the St. Helens plant , leaving behind the paper machines. The city council approved a lease termination agreement with Cascades in late December 2023.

Plans were in motion to spread the American Hyperion Solar facilities, and jobs, between Scappoose and St. Helens, but Walsh said that plan has since fizzled.

Walsh said, “Given the large impact to St. Helens, they considered also building the panel manufacturing facility in Scappoose, to spread out the impacts … The total investment was very significant. It was well over $1 billion and about 1,600 jobs.”

Walsh added, “The solar company, however, backed away from locating a part of its business in Scappoose due to concerns over the availability of electrical power in the region,” he said.

St. Helens has been working with American Hyperion Solar, which it dubs Project Sprint, through a letter of intent, which, according to Walsh, includes an exclusive negotiating agreement with the city for the project at the city’s industrial business park.

The letter of intent was extended, at the company’s request, until March 31, at which time the city will learn if the solar company is coming to St. Helens.

Walsh said American Hyperion Solar is looking into the workforce, educational training and housing issues in St. Helens before making a final decision.

“This would be a transformational investment in our community,” Walsh said. “We should know by March 31 if they will be proceeding with the project.”

A stumbling block in the way of a move to St. Helens is the amount of power available in Columbia County.

“The amount of electrical supply is the primary issue facing the project,” Walsh said. “We have plenty of water and wastewater treatment capacity, but our region doesn’t have much excess power.”

He said, “The transmission lines are insufficiently sized to deliver the power needed for this project, and we are exploring solutions to meet the project requirements. They are even exploring the development of onsite power generation from the installation of solar panels on the roofs of the new buildings, and perhaps, a Cogen steam conversion facility to produce needed electricity.”

Talks are taking place among regional utilities to address the problem of power in the region.

“Yesterday, we had representatives from Bonneville Power, Portland General Electric and Columbia River PUD visit the site to explore solutions to resolve the capacity concerns,” Walsh said. “We are aware of the issue and are working diligently to ensure there is sufficient electrical capacity to our community and the Columbia County region.”

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