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400 employees laid off - District Administrator Neubauer plans to rescue Meyer Burger solar factory

Central Saxony's district administrator Dirk Neubauer (non-party) is furious with the FDP for preventing subsidies for East German solar factories. What he is now planning to do to save the 500 jobs in Freiberg.
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Man sieht einen Photovoltaik-Mitarbeiter neben einer Solarmodule
Solar manufacturer Meyer Burger has laid off most of the employees at its factory in Freiberg, Saxony. © dpa/Sebastian Kahnert

From George Moeritz

Freiberg. Can the Freiberg solar module factory still be saved, even if the German government does not support the company's wishes? Meyer Burger for a bonus for local products? Central Saxony District Councillor Dirk Neubauer (non-party) is working on a plan to boost loss-making production again.

Neubauer wants to present details of his plan next week and coordinate them with Meyer Burger Group CEO Gunter Erfurt. In an interview with sächsische.de, the district administrator said that a project company and local operating companies for solar plants should be founded in the district of Central Saxony. They could buy photovoltaic modules from the factory and connect them. This would create local "landworks" in addition to the municipal utilities.

Meyer Burger ceased production in mid-March and announced that most of the 500 employees would be made redundant at the end of April. On Tuesday, 400 of them were made redundant, according to Daniel Gerber, member of the Green Party in the state parliament. The company is based on solar modules with an output of 365 megawatts, which are difficult to sell due to cheap Chinese competition. According to CEO Erfurt, Freiberg's production is making losses and the share price of the Swiss company has fallen to 0.02 Swiss francs in recent days. It once stood at 0.71 francs. Some of the employees are to be offered jobs at other Group sites.

Plan for Central Saxony: one gigawatt of solar power

If district administrator Neubauer has his way, around 50 medium-sized solar plants will soon be installed in Central Saxony. "It can succeed if local authorities and citizens join in," he said. "There is enough space." According to Neubauer's calculations, modules with a total output of around one gigawatt could be installed on around 1,000 hectares. That is roughly the annual production of the Freiberg factory. The company has promised to restart production for this.

The district administrator estimates the costs for the investments in the district of Central Saxony, including construction and operation, at 770 million euros. This is an economic stimulus program for the regional economy, including the skilled trades. The Sparkasse Mittelsachsen has agreed to finance sub-projects, and Volksbanken have also agreed to look favorably on the idea.

The district itself could not participate directly, but probably has the biggest task in this project: "As a district, we have to speed up the planning process." Neubauer said that he also needed the support of the state government for this.

The district administrator of Central Saxony, Dirk Neubauer, is working on a rescue plan for Meyer Burger.
© Lutz Weidler (archive photo)

FDP leader Lindner: Solar modules not high-tech

In recent weeks, state politicians from the CDU, Greens and SPD have campaigned for support for the industry. The companies Meyer Burger, Solarwatt in Dresden and Heckert Solar in Chemnitz, together with an industry association, called for a "resilience bonus". European technology should be given preference, even if it is more expensive than Chinese technology. The latter is offered at prices below the manufacturing costs, which is unfair.

FDP party leader Christian Lindner spoke out against the bonus. He said in the ARD program Bericht aus Berlin that the production of solar modules is "not a high-tech technology". Supporting individual companies would not have any effect on the security of the business location or the success of the energy transition. District Administrator Neubauer, on the other hand, described the solar industry as an "industry of the future" that was being driven away by the FDP for party political reasons.

Energy Minister Günther: Becoming less dependent on China

Saxony's Energy and Environment Minister Wolfram Günther (Greens) called the sector "strategically important". The FDP is wrong to say that photovoltaics is not high-tech. On the contrary, German research leads to more powerful solar technology. Every percent increase in the efficiency of solar cells and every advance in service life means a considerable lead in the market and in the cost of electricity generation. As Saxony's Energy Minister, he is firmly committed to the goal of remaining as independent as possible from China when it comes to the supply of renewable energy technologies.

Günther demanded that following the rejection from Berlin, the EU must now quickly press ahead with its planned funding programs. In Brussels, an economic promotion program is being prepared under the title Net Zero Industrial Act. These instruments must now be quickly fleshed out and implemented at national level. Saxony could move forward and score points with a skilled labor initiative and a research and development initiative. The redundancies in Freiberg are hard, bitter news for the employees and their families.

CDU member of state parliament Robert Clemen wrote that the FDP would go down in history as the "gravedigger of the German solar industry". He pointed out that other manufacturers could follow Meyer Burger's example. Solarwatt in Dresden had already laid off employees at the turn of the year. Managing Director Detlef Neuhaus said in January that Solarwatt was not at risk, but that production with 120 jobs in Dresden. Clemen accused the federal government of making "yet another decision against the East German economy".

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