News: EU endorses €17 million aid to Solibro for solar modules plant in Bitterfeld-Wolfen, Germany

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The European Commission has authorised €17 million of regional investment aid for the German company Solibro GmbH for the production of solar modules in Bitterfeld-Wolfen (Sachsen-Anhalt), Germany. The project involves an investment of €142 million and is expected to create at least 260 new jobs in the region. Germany limited the aid amount to the maximum that would be allowable taking account of aid granted to a previous investment project by Solibro. The Commission found the measure to be compatible with the requirements of the Regional Aid Guidelines 2007-2013 (see IP/05/1653), and in particular with their rules on large investment projects. The Commission concluded that, on balance, the positive effects of the investment on regional development outweigh potential distortions of competition brought about by the aid.

“This investment project is expected to create new jobs in Sachsen-Anhalt and will contribute to the development of the region without unduly distorting competition.” said Commission Vice President in charge of competition policy Joaquín Almunia.

Solibro manufactures thin film solar modules based on the copper-indium-gallium-(di-)selenide (CIGS) technology. Solar modules convert sunlight into electricity. Solibro is a subsidiary of Q-Cells SE, which is active at worldwide level in the solar power industry. The Solibro modules are sold by its mother company Q-Cells on the solar modules market or integrated into Q-Cells’ solar systems.

The investment project takes place in Bitterfeld-Wolfen (Thalheim, Sachsen-Anhalt), Germany, an area eligible for aid under Article 107(3)(a) of the EU Treaty as a region with an abnormally low standard of living and high unemployment.

Solibro already has a solar module production plant in Bitterfeld-Wolfen, for which it received regional aid in 2007. The new investment comprises the extension of this first plant and the construction of a second plant on an adjacent site. The project started in October 2008 and will be finalised by end 2010. The investment costs are €142 million, while the aid amounts to €17 million.

Q-Cells also invested in several other projects for the production of solar modules based on different technologies, undertaken by its related companies Calyxo, Sovello and Sunfilm in Bitterfeld-Wolfen within the same three year period as the Solibro projects.

The Commission verified whether the notified aid is fully in line with the Regional Aid Guidelines, in particular with their conditions for granting aid for large regional investment projects. The guidelines include a progressive reduction of the regional aid ceiling for large projects, because these suffer less from typical regional handicaps than smaller projects.

If the new project formed a single investment project with the other investments in geographic proximity, the scaling down mechanism would have to be applied to the combined investments. The German authorities limited the aid amount to the maximum that would be allowable in a ‘single investment project’ scenario taking account of aid granted to the previous investment project by Solibro. The Commission also verified whether the Solibro projects would form a single investment project with the other investments by Calyxo, Sovello and Sunfilm, and came to the conclusion that this was not the case.

The Commission calculated that Q-Cells’ market shares on the world market for solar modules and on the EEA and world market for large solar systems are below 25% before and after the investment. As the photovoltaic market has a double-digit growth rate, which is fairly above the EEA growth rate, the Commission also concluded that the additional production capacity created by the project would not raise concerns. As these thresholds are not exceeded, the Commission concluded that the positive impact of the investment on regional development outweighs the potential distortions of competition.

The non-confidential version of the decision will be made available under the case number N 641/2009 in the State Aid Register on the DG Competition website once any confidentiality issues have been resolved. New publications of state aid decisions on the internet and in the Official Journal are listed in the State Aid Weekly e-News.

Citation:  Press Release of the European Commission IP/10/973

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