Former Pittsburgh Steel Plant Reopened as Solar Panel Parts Manufacturer
by Amanda Waltz
July 7, 2022
The site of a former Pittsburgh-area steel plant will now produce valuable parts for solar panels.
On June 28, the Bethlehem Steel plant in Leetsdale, Pa. reopened with a new purpose – to “produce solar tracker equipment for large-scale solar power plants,” according to a press release. The facility was resurrected by Nextracker LLC, a company that makes utility-scale solar trackers, and BCI Steel, a Pittsburgh-based steel fabricator.
The plant originally created materials for tank landing ships during WWII and has been closed since 1978.
Based in the San Francisco Bay Area, Nextracker is described as creating products that “enable solar panels in utility-scale power plants to follow the sun's movement across the sky and optimize plant performance.” BCI Steel is the third steel manufacturing partner Nextracker commissioned in 2022 as part of its commitment to “rebuilding America's steel and solar supply chains.”
"BCI is proud to advance Pittsburgh's legacy as the heart of America's steel industry," says Matt Carroll, CEO of BCI Steel. "This partnership with Nextracker showcases our steel fabrication and quality control technology and unlocks additional domestic solar capacity with our low-cost manufacturing."
In addition to the company's new Texas and Arizona factories, announced in April and May, respectively, the Leetsdale location is meant to help Nextracker build towards 10 gigawatts of annual domestic solar tracker capacity. (Or, as the release puts it, “enough to power 7.5 million homes”).
Through these partnerships, Nextracker has procured over 100,000 tons of U.S.-made steel so far this year. The steel used in making metal tubes at the Leetsdale plant will initially come from U.S. Steel’s Mon Valley Works in West Mifflin, Pa.
"U.S. Steel is pleased to supply steel that is mined, melted and made in America for Nextracker's advanced solar tracker systems,” says Ken Jaycox of the United States Steel Corporation. “We applaud Nextracker's expansion of manufacturing in Pittsburgh and other locations in the U.S."
The plant will also incorporate BCI Steel equipment shipped to the U.S. from factories in Malaysia and Brazil.
As the Nextracker website explains, the focus on steel manufacturing comes after the last two years posed a “major challenge for the global solar and clean energy industries.” It goes on to say that steel price hikes, along with supply chain issues, skyrocketing shipping costs, and other obstacles driven by the pandemic, have made it more difficult for the solar energy sector.
A release says the parts produced at the Leetsdale factory will serve solar markets in Pennsylvania, Indiana, New York, and Ohio. According to a WPXI story, the first products produced in the Leetsdale facility are scheduled to be shipped out the week of July 11.
Nextracker sees the plant as the “perfect location,” citing its close proximity to river and rail transport, and Interstate 79, the main route that runs from West Virginia all the way up through western Pa.
State leaders also view the Nextracker plant as a job generator for the region – as reported by CBS News Pittsburgh, Allegheny County Executive Rich Fitzgerald said it would “put a lot of our people to work.” As of June 28, the company was offering about 70 positions and was still hiring.
"BCI Steel's Pittsburgh factory enables the quick-ship response times we need to meet booming demand from our customers in the Mid-Atlantic and Heartland regions," said Dan Shugar, CEO and founder of Nextracker. "This investment will increase the resilience of the U.S. solar supply chain and bring manufacturing jobs, equipment, and capacity back to America."