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Feds help out solar plant manufacturer with interest-free loan

New soldering machine will do the work of four older machines
20170802-Terry Sheehan announcement at Heliene solar panel plant-DT
Sault Ste. Marie MP Terry Sheehan and Martin Pochtaruk, Heliene Inc. president, chat in front of a new soldering machine, partially funded with a repayable federal government loan announced Aug. 2, 2017. Darren Taylor/SooToday

Heliene Inc., the Sault-based solar panel manufacturing plant, has benefitted from a $199,000 interest-free, repayable loan from FedNor, the federal government’s economic development engine for Northern Ontario.

The funding, announced at the plant by Sault Ste. Marie MP Terry Sheehan on Aug. 2, goes toward the purchase and installation of a new, fully automated soldering machine.

“This machine has the speed of the four machines we had before combined, so we’ll be able to produce more modules per hour,” said Martin Pochtaruk, Heliene Inc. president, speaking to reporters Wednesday.

Total cost for the machine, startup and employee training is approximately $440,000, Pochtaruk said.

“It not only is more efficient because it's faster, it also produces with lower breakage, therefore economically it is more efficient as well.”

“There will be more in quantity, and better quality as well. More and better,” Pochtaruk said.

Since 2015, the U.S. has been Heliene’s main market. More than 70 per cent of its product has been exported to the States this year, and the plant’s order book is full until December, Pochtaruk said.

“This is a perfect example why a medium-sized business like this is so important to the economy. As we look to diversify the economy with clean, green technology and exporting it to the United States, it underlines and highlights Sault Ste. Marie’s advantage in a geographical position of having this huge market beside us,” Sheehan said.

“They (Heliene) have taken advantage of it and really blown the doors off the export opportunities available to the United States and will sustain jobs here in the Sault riding.”

The upgrade will help retain Heliene’s 75 employees, Sheehan and Pochtaruk said.

In June, Sheehan announced $1.45 million in federal funding for Heliene for research and development, to enable the company to get involved in developing a project related to smart grid technology.

That project, which will cost $3 million in total, is a pilot project in which Heliene will work with the Sault PUC, beginning next spring.

The project, Pochtaruk said, will involve an intelligent solar module which is able to create active and reactive power and communicate with remote utilities.

The Heliene facility in the Sault was the first solar panel manufacturing plant to open in Canada in 2010, with only two other competitors, one in Mississauga and another in Guelph.