Is Idaho's Hoku solar plant a model for Chinese investment in U.S.?

The deal between Baoding Tianwei Group, the parent company of Hoku Corp. and Wells Fargo that came in the wake of Chinese President Hu Jintao’s visit to the United States will tell a lot about both Chinese investment and the future of alternative energy businesses in the U.S.

The agreement includes potential financial support for Hoku, which is building a polysilicon manufacturing plant in Pocatello. The plant is expected to eventually create 500 jobs in the United States and will ship its polysilicon to China.

Tianwei has already invested $270 million in Hoku's plant, said Scott Paul, Hoku's CEO.

Already the relationship means American jobs and exports to China.

"This should be the poster project on how to bring investment to the United States and balance our relationship with China," Paul told me.

But at the same time this is happening, solar companies in China are selling so many panels at low prices that American manufacturers are having a hard time competing. In the Treasure Valley Transform Solar, the start-up formed by Micron Technology and Origin Energy of Australia has yet to go into production.

In addition, Hoku Solar, a subsidiary of Hoku, is developing photovoltaic projects in the U.S. How it and other Chinese-backed ventures in the U.S. supply themselves will give us some idea what kind of a model Hoku will be for balancing trade with China.

Ding Qiang, vice chairman and president of Tianwei is expected to tour the Pocatello plant this week. Ding also serves in the Chinese government and attended Hu's business lunch Thursday in Washington D.C.

He said the agreement with Wells Fargo will benefit the U.S.

“Together, we will continue to bring more clean energy to life and create more jobs in the U.S.,” said Ding.