BIZ-REC-SILICON-2-SE

Polysilicon granules rest on a solar panel. Before the U.S.-China trade dispute, REC sold nearly 80 percent of the polysilicon produced in Moses Lake to China, where it was eventually processed into the silicon wafers that make solar cells.

MOSES LAKE — Norway-based REC Silicon is considering selling the company’s Butte, Montana, silicon gas facility.

Should a buyer be found for the facility, the company said it would be used to pay down debt — including roughly $5 million in outstanding property taxes from 2013 and almost $3 million in interest and penalties to Grant County — and to keep the Moses Lake facility ready to restart “when the trade dispute with China is resolved.”

“What we’re doing is we’re trying to be proactive,” REC Chief Financial Officer James May told the Columbia Basin Herald.

The Moses Lake facility produced polysilicon for the solar panel market, but was shut down earlier this year after a six-year-long trade dispute with China, which produces over 90 percent of the world’s solar panels.

After the United States imposed tariffs on Chinese solar panels, China imposed a 57 percent tariff on U.S.-made polysilicon, effectively preventing REC from selling to its largest customers. Revenue from the sale of silicon gas and semiconductor grade polysilicon has been keeping the company afloat in the last few years. According to May, if the company sells the Butte facility, the only operating plant it will have will be the joint-venture plant in Yulin, China, which is a smaller version of the Moses Lake plant.

“Other than that, we’ll have no operating facilities,” he said.

The company is currently challenging its 2013 tax bill, and the case is currently waiting to be heard by the Washington State Court of Appeals in Olympia.

“The fact that the plant is shut down underscores what our appeal is about,” May said.

May also said that despite talk earlier this year of creating an alternate U.S. supply chain for polysilicon made in Moses Lake — such as domestically made solar panels or in rechargeable batteries — May said the company remains focused on getting back into the Chinese polysilicon market.

“It would be nice if there was a supply chain outside China,” he said. “But the trade war needs to be resolved.”

However, May said he would not speculate how long the company could hang on from any proceeds from a possible sale of the Butte facility.