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Mountain Iron seeks $3.8 million from state for solar manufacturing expansion

The grant would fund a 35,000 square-foot warehouse and office space for Heliene, Inc., Minnesota's only solar panel manufacturer.

A solar array manufactured by Heliene, Inc. goes up at an industrial site near Sault Ste. Marie, Ont. The company has expanded to Mountain Iron and is now the only solar manufacturer in Minnesota. (Photo courtesy of Heliene Inc.)

The Iron Range city of Mountain Iron is seeking a $3.8 million state grant to build a new 35,000 square-foot warehouse and office space at its city-owned solar panel manufacturing facility.

Heliene, Inc., Minnesota's only manufacturer of solar panels , has grown quickly outgrown its current facility,and is using warehouses in the Twin Cities for storage, Heliene President Martin Pochtaruk said.

"We need it as we have no space at all," Pochtaruk said.

The grant was requested in a pair of bills introduced in the Minnesota House and Senate last week: HF 4172, authored by State Rep. Dave Lislegard, DFL-Aurora, and SF 4143, authored by State Sen. David Tomassoni, DFL-Chisholm.

The Minnesota Legislature, however, is weighing a potential legislative hiatus amid the spread of COVID-19, the respiratory illness that develops from the new coronavirus.


Gary Meader / Duluth News Tribune

Money for the project would come out of the state's renewable development account , a separate special revenue fund in the state treasury. The account is funded by Xcel Energy's Prairie Island and Monticello nuclear power plants. The utility must pay $500,000 per year into the fund for every dry cask of spent nuclear fuel stored at each facility.

Craig Wainio, Mountain Iron city administrator, said the state grant is "extremely crucial" for the expansion, which won't be built without it. He said it is unclear how much the new building will cost, and how much money the city will have to contribute to it. Pochtaruk said since Heliene is leasing space from the city, his business won't need to pay for a portion of the construction costs.

Wainio said the grant is needed "to assist Heliene expansion and create and retain jobs as well as expand Minnesota’s presence and influence in the green energy markets and diversify our economy."

In September, the Department of Iron Range Resources and Rehabilitation awarded Heliene a $600,000 loan to automate one of its manufacturing processes and hire 15 more employees.

Pochtaruk said getting that process up and running was finished this week.

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