An idle 320-acre Ford Motor Co. plant, which during its 52 years of operation assembled 6.6 million Lincoln Continentals, Ford Thunderbirds and other vehicles before halting operations two years ago, is getting reincarnated as a renewable energy equipment manufacturing park.
In a symbolic win for those hoping the U.S. can replace some of its thousands of lost automotive jobs with green ones, three greentech companies on Thursday announced a plan to retrofit a Ford assembly plant in Michigan (the state with the highest unemployment rate in the country) to manufacture equipment for wind and solar projects, and to set up a renewable energy training center. Along with Ford Executive Chairman Bill Ford and Michigan Gov. Jennifer Granholm, chief executives of Xtreme Power, Clairvoyant Energy and Oerlikon Solar revealed the plan at a ceremony at the Wixom, Mich., facility.
Part of the plan involves a thin-film solar factory that solar developer Clairvoyant Energy expects to build using Oerlikon Solar equipment. The project is the first one that Switzerland-based Oerlikon has announced in the U.S., said Chris O’Brien, head of North American market development for the company. “It’s an important milestone for Oerlikon…and a vote of confidence in the competitiveness of U.S. manufacturing,” he said, adding that the company believes the U.S. will become the world’s largest photovoltaic market by 2012.
Clairvoyant expects to raise financing for the project next year and to begin operations at the solar plant in 2011, he said. The factory will initially house a single 90MW production line, but could ultimately expand to four lines, O’Brien said. According to the press release, Clairvoyant plans to hire 300 employees for the factory by the end of 2011 and depending on demand, add up to 700 more.
Another project at the park will be a factory for Kyle, Texas-based Xtreme Power, which makes energy storage and power management systems for large wind and solar projects. The company plans to renovate more than 1 million square feet of the site.
Xtreme and Clairvoyant, which have agreed to buy the plant from Ford, plan to use approximately half of the 4.7 million square feet of building space for their factories and are looking for other green companies to lease the rest. In addition, the plan calls for a renewable energy research and training center for tenants and colleges.
The Michigan legislature has approved about $100 million in tax credits for the project, which is expected to cost about $725 million in total. The project is applying for additional funding from a variety of other government sources, including federal loan guarantees and manufacturing tax credits, as well as state and local tax incentives for employment and brownfield renovation projects.
All together, the renewable energy park is expected to create more than 4,000 jobs, according to a press release from Ford. That number includes jobs at the park itself and at area suppliers, but doesn’t include thousands of additional indirect jobs also expected by the groups, according to the release. The Ford plant directly employed approximately 1,000 workers when it closed in 2007, down from more than 5,000 at the height of its productivity.
Images courtesy of Ford