Battery-plant construction faces delay
By RON SELAK JR.
LORDSTOWN — Construction of a $2.3 billion battery-cell plant that was set to start in April may be pushed back to July over timing issues related to state and federal environmental permits, plus working through any matters regarding gas wells on the property.
And when the plant, a joint venture between General Motors and South Korea’s LG Chem, is in production, the upwards of 1,100 employees will make $45,000 to $50,000 a year — “solid middle class wages,” said U.S. Rep. Tim Ryan, in an area still hurting from the closure of GM’s assembly plant in Lordstown.
News of the delay and yearly wages were reported back from Ryan and state Sens. Sean O’Brien and Michael Rulli on Wednesday after the three met with LG Chem officials at Ryan’s Washington, D.C., congressional office.
Ryan, who billed the meeting as “phenomenal,” said in addition to the well-paying jobs, the plant presents “an opportunity to be on the cutting edge of an industry that is going to be growing by leaps and bounds over the course of the next 10 or 15 or 20 years.”
“So we wanted to present to them in a bipartisan way … that we are behind them 1,000 percent, that this is an absolute home run for our community,” said Ryan, D-Howland.
“We want to position our community in front of waves of economic growth and to get in front of the batteries that are going into electric vehicles. You are talking about sustained growth over decades because (of) the applications of these batteries. Yes it’s cars, but in the future it’s going to be for homes to store solar energy or wind energy. So the opportunities here moving down the line are really creating an ecosystem around voltage,” said Ryan.
The massive plant will be built on 158 acres on Tod Avenue in Lordstown adjacent to GM’s former assembly plant that closed in March.
“April was the original time (to start construction), but they think more like July,” said O’Brien,
D-Bazetta, who added he and Rulli, R-Salem, committed to the LG Chem officials they will work with the Ohio Department of Natural Resources regarding any issues that may arise from gas wells.
GM has applied for environmental permits from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and Ohio Environmental Protection Agency that would allow it to start construction on the project, which has the working name of GigaPower LLC.
The commitments from the senators and Ryan to work with the corps of engineers are, said O’Brien, “to make sure the permitting process is done right and then we get this project up and running.”
The discussion also covered partnering with the Western Reserve Port Authority, using its economic tools to save money on construction.
The port authority’s economic development arm already has worked with TJX Companies Inc. for its HomeGoods distribution center in Lordstown through a capital lease program. Under the arrangement, the port authority owns the project and leases it back to TJX for five years, which helps save TJX millions in sales tax related to construction.
“Those are the kind of sophisticated economic development tools that we have been putting into place over the last 10 or 15 years that are really coming home to roost now, (to) really benefit us,” Ryan said.
Other talk included connecting LG Chem with BRITE Energy Innovators in downtown Warren, an energy sector business incubator, and Lordstown Motors Corp., which bought the old GM plant to manufacturing battery-powered trucks.
O’Brien said he spoke with Lordstown Motors founder and CEO Steve Burns about developing a “synergy” with the battery-cell plant.
“They (Lordstown Motors) are getting their batteries from somewhere else, but there is a possibility of a synergy with Lordstown Motors, LG / GM joint venture,” O’Brien said. “They are right next door if they need batteries. Perhaps this could come into a different fruition of their business plan and change the model, so they are going to be meeting with Steve Burns.”
Rulli said politics is tossed aside when an opportunity of the likes of the new plant is presented.
“This is about a transformation of our area,” he said. “All three of us are committed to turning our area into the electric capital of the country.”