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GE to Invest $100M+ in New York Battery Plant, Hoping for Stimulus Bucks

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GE-Immelt-SodiumBatteryCellUpdated with comments from GE CEO Jeff Immelt: In the ongoing battle among states to lure big players in the emerging battery industry — with their potential to bring jobs as well as stimulus dollars — New York has just scored big. General Electric (s GE) this morning announced that it plans to build a new battery factory in upstate New York with an “initial investment” of $100 million and additional funds requested under the stimulus package.

First up for the New York plant, if all of the financing comes through: batteries for hybrid freight trains. It’s looking at providing energy storage devices for other applications including utilities, telecoms and load leveling for the smart grid. At full capacity, the new plant is designed to produce 10 million battery cells, or about 900 MW-hours of energy storage per year. Having submitted its application to the Department of Energy just this week, GE hopes to bring in stimulus funds this summer and begin production in 2011. Update: GE told us this morning that it plans to submit its application for stimulus funds later this week, and Immelt said he expects the DOE to decide on the proposal in August.

While GE said that part of its decision to set up shop in New York had to do with proximity to the company’s research headquarters in Niskayuna, New York, a state incentive package helped sweeten the deal. Other states, notably Kentucky and Michigan, have been putting together tax credits and other carrots to bring in battery makers as auto factories shut down. Battery developer A123Systems, in which GE has invested $70 million (including $15 million just last month), plans to build out manufacturing facilities in Michigan, creating an estimated 5,000 jobs, as well as other states. With sugar daddy GE in New York, we wonder if the startup will opt to put down stakes nearby.

Although GE has lined up a cohort of politicians to endorse its bid for help from the feds, it’s far too early to bank on stimulus funds. We’re following GE CEO Jeff Immelt and New York Gov. David Paterson’s announcement about the plant this morning and will update this post when we have information about Plan B: What happens if the DOE stimulus funds don’t come through?

Update: Immelt, pictured above with a sodium-based battery cell like those GE hopes to produce at the New York plant, provided a few more details this morning at the company’s Niskayuna research center. Asked if GE would certainly go ahead with the factory project even without stimulus money, he said (referring to R&D costs), “We’ve invested $150 million in this technology already, and it’s going to go forward. The way to think about stimulus money is it’s an accelerator.” He said DOE stimulus grants would allow the factory to “go forward on a quicker timetable,” but did not disclose how long he expects the project to take without stimulus funds. Immelt also revealed that the company has not yet decided how much aid to request. “It’s still a work in progress vis a vis the size of the proposal.”