UPDATE 1-Suntech starts production at first US plant

* Arizona facility has initial production capacity of 30MW

* Co plans to expand capacity to 50 MW by early 2011

* Says will eventually increase capacity to 120 MW

* Aims to employ over 150 at the facility by 2011-end

Oct 8 (Reuters) - Chinese solar panel maker Suntech Power Holdings Co Ltd STP.N said on Friday it opened its first plant in the United States.

The module production facility at Goodyear, Arizona has an initial annual capacity of 30 megawatt (MW), Suntech said, adding that it plans to expand capacity to 50MW early next year.

The company currently targets to employ more than 150 people at the facility by the end of 2011.

“Our new U.S. manufacturing plant will provide a local platform to meet the burgeoning demand for solar products in the U.S. and Canadian markets, which we expect to exceed 1 gigawatt (GW) for the first time in 2010,” Steven Chan, president of Suntech America, said in a statement.

“In the third quarter of 2010 alone we shipped more than our total 2009 shipments to the North American market,” he said.

The company said it eventually plans to expand annual production capacity at the facility to up to 120 MW to keep up with growing demand in the United States.

Demand for solar equipment has rebounded this year after a weak 2009 and manufacturers are scrambling to line up contracts for 2011 to absorb expected increases in supplies of the renewable energy systems.

Suntech, the largest Chinese photovoltaic solar panel maker, sells solar equipment to Australia, Germany, Japan, Peru, Spain, Thailand, the United Arab Emirates and the United States.

Shares of the company, which have lost about half their value since a year-high in January, were up about a percent at $8.98 Friday on the New York Stock Exchange. (Reporting by Adveith Nair in Bangalore; Editing by Maju Samuel)