The Hudson Valley's emerging solar industry is getting a big boost from the federal government.
At a news conference Tuesday, U.S. Rep. Maurice Hinchey, D-Hurley, promised $3.6 million to help solar-cell manufacturer Prism Solar Technologies in Highland spin off a new company.
Hinchey said the 2010 Defense Appropriation, leveraged with an additional $6 million in private investments, should spawn about 300 jobs over the next few years.
"The Hudson Valley is becoming one of the most significant solar energy development places in the country," Hinchey said. "Alternative energy is critically important for the future of our country and for our species on this planet."
With its new subsidiary, Prism plans to produce a groundbreaking holographic film and solar module that is lightweight, flexible and more than three times as efficient as traditional designs.
This "twin crystal ribbon" technology can capture and concentrate energy even in low-light settings, allowing it to work a longer day. Its transportable design is thin and bendable, like a floor mat, making it attractive to a wide array of customers: utilities, drivers, campers, the military.
Prism officials believe they're on the cusp of cornering an international market.
Since the company's inception less than two years ago, it's explored manufacturing sites across the country and abroad. Prism currently performs its research and development in Tucson, but recently chose Highland as its manufacturing hub.
Company leaders say the draw was The Solar Energy Consortium, a Kingston-based nonprofit that's helping faltering high-tech and semi-conductor industries transition into solar.
"The labor pool that we're looking for is here," said Prism CEO Rick Lewandowski. In the past few months, the company has hired roughly 80 people, most from Ulster County.
TSEC also helped Prism find its new manufacturing site in a former Panasonic plant on South Road in Highland. Panasonic was looking to sell the facility and all its equipment quickly. Prism pounced in March, hiring some of Panasonic's laid-off staff and retooling much of the factory equipment for solar manufacturing.
"We're getting known as sort of the Solar Valley instead of the Silicon Valley," said TSEC President Vince Cozzolino. "In this down economy, just this year, the TSEC companies that have come to this area … have added about 140 new jobs."
Prism's wholly-owned subsidiary, which has not yet been named, will take another 12 to 18 months to launch.