The proposed layout of the Wixom plant as a green energy center. (Ford photo)
No mistake, the recession has ravaged the auto industry. Ford, for instance, has 14 idled assembly plants in North America, and it has closed five since 2005. That's the bad news. The good news is that some of them are being reborn as alternative energy incubators.
Ford closed its plant in Wixom, a Michigan town of 12,000, in 2007. At its height, when it was cranking out Lincoln Town Cars and Continentals, the plant employed 3,000 people. Opened in 1957, it was a reliable employer for more than 50 years.
Fortunately, the plant has assets: It's right on a rail line, the I-96 freeway is two minutes away, and there's an electric power substation on the property. And now it has new tenants in the form of two major green companies, Clairvoyant Energy and Xtreme Power, which will invest $725 million to redevelop its 320 acres and 4.7 million square feet of floor space.
The Wixom plant as it is today. (Ford photo)
Phil Horlock, chairman and CEO of Ford Land (created by Henry Ford II to manage the company's more than 2,000 acres, which make it the largest land owner in Dearborn) declined to say how much the green energy companies will pay for the plant. But he described it as a small percentage of the $725 million the partners will spend to redevelop the plant.
Clairvoyant makes high-efficiency solar panels, and has developed solar parks in California and Spain. Xtreme's systems store solar and wind power until the grid is ready to use it. It's working on turn-key projects that will, the company says, support up to 10,000 megawatts of renewable energy.
A third operator at Wixom, with a satellite office, will be Oerlikon Solar USA (a branch of a Swiss company), which works closely with Clairvoyant on thin-film solar technology.
Horlock praises the role of Michigan Governor Jennifer Granholm in supporting the renewable energy project with a variety of tax credits, including those for restoring brownfields and providing green jobs. Environmental remediation is in its second phase at the plant.
The energy partners will take title to Wixom in the first quarter of next year, and renovate the site with construction starting in the fall of 2011. The partners have applied for a Department of Energy loan guarantee. Failure to secure that loan will undoubtedly slow the project substantially, but it is expected to continue regardless.
Ford has sold three of its closed plants, and Wixom is the fourth. A fifth site in Norfolk, Virginia is in discussions with a potential buyer.
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