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Kyocera Solar shaves staff in San Diego

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Kyocera Solar Inc., facing hot overseas competition, will downsize its manufacturing plant in Kearny Mesa.

The Scottsdale, Ariz.-based solar panel maker said 23 full-time workers will be laid off, effective March 20, at 8611 Balboa Ave.

In addition, 85 temporary positions filled by an external staffing agency will be eliminated.

“The demand for solar modules that are specifically U.S. made has declined since the end of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) program,” said Cecilia Aguillon, director of marketing and government relations for Kyocera Solar, the company's North American solar products subsidiary.

To recharge the economy, some of the 2009 stimulus dollars were devoted to such green energy projects as wind turbines and solar.

“We intend to manufacture in the U.S. as long as we find demand for U.S.-made solar modules, and we are working very hard to secure new large-scale orders for our U.S.-made product,” Aguillon said.

If that demand disappears, the company will shift its resources to its operations in Tijuana.

It’s unclear how many Kyocera Solar employees will remain in San Diego.

“For competitive reasons we don’t disclose headcount numbers by product line,” Aguillon said.

The 23 positions represent a “very small” percentage of its total work force in San Diego, she added. Its sales and engineering operations in San Diego remain unaffected. Its solar module manufacturing operations in Japan, China, the Czech Republic and Mexico are also unchanged, she said.

"Kyocera’s solar energy business is growing and expanding globally," Aguillon said.

It’s becoming harder to stay on top in the sun-harvesting industry as supply exceeds demand and countries such as China get the edge via cheaper manufacturing capabilities.

Overcapacity is expected to fuel the failures or acquisitions of 180 solar panel makers by 2015, according to a study released by GTM Research last October.

Most closures will occur in countries that have become too pricy to make solar panels, namely the United States, Europe and Canada, the report said.

There are some bright spots on the domestic solar front. Kearny Mesa-based Envision Solar (OTC BB: EVSI), a solar shaded parking company, has worked with Kyocera to commercialize a variety of photovoltaic carport systems.

The company's collaboration scored it a finalist spot in Point Loma Nazarene University's Fermanian School of Business and Fermanian Business & Economic Institute's recent Dealmakers of the Year awards.

Kyocera was the first high-tech Japanese enterprise with manufacturing operations in California and has made microelectronic packaging products in San Diego since 1971, Aguillon said.

Promoting feed-in tariffs for solar energy will be the next big leg up for the solar industry as the California Solar Initiative winds down, Aguillon said in an interview last year.

Funds from the $2.4 billion solar rebate program, aimed at jump-starting the state’s solar industry in 2007, dried up for San Diego consumers in late 2012.

Kyocera has made and installed more than 1.2 gigawatts of solar-collection equipment and more than 7 million modules, according to its website.

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