Convalt Energy hopes for June 1 construction start

Apr. 20—WATERTOWN — Convalt Energy officials should know soon whether they can acquire two Watertown buildings to use for warehousing space for solar panel manufacturing equipment being transported from Oregon.

The company continues to develop a mammoth solar manufacturing plant on Route 12F near the Watertown International Airport in the town of Hounsfield.

The 330,000-square-foot facility could get site plan approval from the Hounsfield Planning Board as early as May 3, with construction starting soon after that.

“We prefer to start in June, but it’ll probably be July 1,” Convalt Energy CEO Hari Achuthan said Wednesday.

The most recent employment figures for the $60 million plant estimate 122 workers during the first year, growing to 382 in year three.

Described as high-paying jobs, the factory positions include sales, marketing, automatics and research and development, Mr. Achuthan said. So far, Convalt has 40 people on its payroll.

Mr. Achuthan told Watertown Local Development Corp. officials on Wednesday that Convalt is purchasing a 100,000-square-foot building and a 75,000-square-foot building, where it will store the equipment.

He hopes to close on the two unidentified buildings within three weeks.

On Wednesday, Mr. Achuthan attended the local development corporation’s Revolving Loan Fund Committee meeting to discuss a $300,000 bridge gap loan.

The committee sent the loan request to the full board for a vote next week. The company needs $1,050,000 in bridge gap financing it plans to use as working capital to transport the equipment from Oregon.

In addition to the WLDC, the Jefferson County Industria Development Agency and the Sackets Harbor Local Development Corp. would participate in the bridge gap funding.

Revolving Loan Fund Committee member Chuck Capone had some reservations about the WLDC’s seven-year, 3% loan, but the committee made it contingent on whether Convalt obtains permanent financing and having a mortgage on the buildings as collateral.

Donald W. Rutherford, CEO of the local development corporation, also known as the Watertown Trust, said he will have to approach the city about the WLDC loan because the plant will be outside of the city.

Frustrated with increasing costs for trucking expenses, Mr. Achuthan said he’s decided to start his own trucking company that Convalt will use. The company recently purchased its first 18-wheeler.

As soon as construction starts on the manufacturing plant, Convalt plans to start designing a second 330,000-square-foot facility at the airport site to manufacture cells for the solar plants, he said.

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