Gas-guzzlers to greentech: Ford plant to be converted to solar, energy storage production park

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An idled Ford automotive factory near Detroit where T-Birds and Continentals were once built will be redeveloped into one of the largest renewable energy manufacturing parks in the United States. The site will include a micromorph-silicon thin-film solar panel factory equipped by Oerlikon–the company’s first such installation in the States. After nine months of discussions with the developers as well as local and state officials, Ford has signed an agreement in principle to sell Wixom assembly plant to energy storage system company Xtreme Power and Clairvoyant Energy, which will be Oerlikon’s turnkey partner.

Once state and federal incentives have been approved, Clairvoyant and Xtreme plan an initial investment of $725 million to redevelop the 320-acre site and its 4.7 million square feet of plant space. The park could create more than 4000 jobs on site and in the surrounding area, as well as support thousands of indirect jobs in an area reeling from cutbacks and layoffs in the automotive industry.

The two primary companies say they will use about half of the square footage to manufacture their products, and will seek additional green-energy manufacturing and support companies to lease the remaining space. The redevelopment work at the Wixom site is expected to start in early 2010, with manufacturing slated to begin in late 2011.

Clairvoyant Energy, which develops PV projects in the U.S. and Europe, plans to hire 300 employees for what would be the company’s first production facility, which will begin operations in late 2011 with a 90MW line using the Oerlikon gear. Depending on market conditions and other factors, the Santa Barbara, CA-based company could add another three production lines and 700 employees in subsequent years.

If the project is approved, Oerlikon says it will establish a regional sales and support center at the Wixom site.

 “Oerlikon Solar has the experience and capability we needed from a technology partner for this highly visible and ambitious project,” said David Hardee, CEO of Clairvoyant Energy. “Oerlikon Solar will provide us with a technology strategy to remain at the cutting edge at relatively low risk with the goal of producing a high-efficiency solar panel at the lowest cost in the market.”

(For more information and commentary on the Wixom plan and the growing trend of US-based PV manufacturing, check out the Chip Shots blog.)

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