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Solar panel leader to open Upstate distribution hub linked to Port of Charleston

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First Solar

First Solar employees install solar panels at the $2 billion, 550-megawatt Topaz Solar Farm in San Luis Obispo County, Calif. First Solar will open a 450,000-square-foot distribution center in Greenville that will link to the Port of Charleston via Inland Port Greer. First Solar/Provided

The nation's largest maker of solar panels plans to open its first East Coast distribution hub in Greenville to stage deliveries for customers in the United States, the company announced Wednesday.

First Solar Inc. said it will import panels made at factories in Malaysia and Vietnam through the Port of Charleston, where they will be sent by rail to the State Ports Authority's inland port in Greer, where they will then be transported to the 450,000-square-foot distribution center. First Solar, which is based in Arizona and also has a manufacturing plant in Ohio, plans to send roughly 7,000 cargo containers through the Port of Charleston each year. Operations are expected to begin later this month.

"Our investment in this distribution hub will help enable our commitments to deliver modules where they’re needed when they’re needed, thanks to the connectivity that S.C. Ports is able to offer," Bart Verbeke, First Solar’s senior manager of global logistics, said in a statement.

In addition to solar panel sales, First Solar develops and operates utility-scale solar power plants and employs 6,400 people worldwide. Founded in 1990 and rebranded as First Solar in 1999, the company has shipped panels capable of generating more than 20 gigawatts of electricity. It is traded on the Nasdaq exchange under the FSLR symbol.

The authority's inland port in Greer is located along Interstate 85 in the Upstate, 212 miles from the Port of Charleston. Norfolk Southern provides overnight rail service to and from the inland port, which is within a 500-mile radius of 90 million people.

The inland port opened in 2013 with BMW Manufacturing's campus in Spartanburg County as its launch customer. The operation has seen consistent growth as more companies use it to move cargo overseas and to handle imports for the fast-growing Southeast population. The port handled a record 157,000 cargo containers moved between trucks and trains in 2019 — a 29 percent year-over-year increase.

The authority opened a second inland port in 2018 in Dillon to handle cargo along the Interstate 95 corridor. That port is serviced by CSX Corp. railroad.

Reach David Wren at 843-937-5550 or on Twitter at @David_Wren_

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