Windsor pursuing $2B battery plant that would employ 2,000
Friday, February 26, 2021
The Windsor Star/Dave Waddell
Video Interview: https://youtu.be/XNZJNZgb7Qc
The WindsorEssex Economic Development Corporation has submitted a bid to land an electric vehicle battery production plant that has been described as the most advanced Canadian effort to date to secure the country’s first such facility.
The proposal, submitted this week, is for a proposed $2-billion plant that would employ 2,000 workers.
“It’s at quite an advanced stage,” said WEEDC executive director and president Stephen MacKenzie.
“Government officials have told us this is the farthest-along proposal about locating a battery manufacturing facility in Canada they’d seen.
“It would be truly transformative.”
MacKenzie said he expects to have more talks in two to three weeks after the major international manufacturer seeking to set up the facility reviews the proposal. Windsor is the only Canadian jurisdiction bidding on the plant with other competition coming from the U.S.
Mackenzie said local, federal and provincial government officials have been part of discussions with the company over the last few months. The city and county governments have also been involved in helping craft the bid.
“They know the importance of getting a battery supply chain in Canada,” MacKenzie said. “It’s the future of our auto industry.”
The province has been working in the area of reducing electrical costs and other possible infrastructure supports.
MacKenzie said the plant would require 90 megawatts of electricity and needs to be located close to an electricity substation.
“We’ve got several pieces of property that would work,” MacKenzie said. “We’re real strong in all areas, but electrical costs is the one keeping me up at night.
“The province has got it down, but there are other things we’re looking at to reduce costs. That’ll be part of our discussions with the company in a few weeks.”
The project also fits into the federal Liberal government’s desire to rebuild the economy through green industries.
The federal government indicated to WEEDC it will offer up significant financial support on a project this size. The feds also supplied the local agency with one of the lead negotiators for Canada in the recent North American trade talks to help answer the company’s questions.
MacKenzie added his agency is also in serious discussions with two other companies working in the battery-related sector. More talks with those companies are set for next month.
“We know tech disruption is going to happen,” MacKenzie said. “We want it to happen here.
“There’s no large scale EV (electric vehicle) battery manufacturer in Canada.
“We’ve managed to start discussions with three international manufacturers for EV batteries on our own.”
MacKenzie said each of the battery projects are distinct. All three would be greenfield site projects of significant size.
“These projects are very real,” said Automotive Parts Manufacturers’ Association president Flavio Volpe.
“It’s not just going to come down to money. It comes down to a whole matrix of things.”
Volpe added Ontario and Windsor are well-positioned to compete for a plant because of labour talent, history in the automotive space, location and Canada being one of the few countries to have all the mineral resources required to build EV batteries.
“If you’re going to do something in batteries, how close you are to the chemistry and cell makers matters,” Volpe said. “Lucky for Windsor they’re all north of Windsor.
“If you’re making the claim you’re better positioned than Windsor and you’re south of Windsor, unless you’re Nevada, you’re not really in the game.”
Volpe said landing a battery plant is vital to the Canadian auto industry and its supporting supply chain’s future.
He said it should be an easy sell for governments given the ripple effect across so many economic sectors, particularly mining, technology and manufacturing.
“The battery is the most valuable piece of an electric vehicle and in some ways the most exotic piece,” Volpe said.
“All the systems that go around protecting and maximizing the efficiencies of the battery are what you want to be in.”
MacKenzie said there’s an urgency to be included in the first wave of the major decisions on the location of such plants.
“It’ll be another generation before the second window of investments of this scale comes around,” MacKenzie said.
In just putting the bid together, the scale of the opportunities has become quite evident. The battery manufacturer had some questions about whether the area had suppliers in specific areas.
“We made some introductions and already they’ve asked four local companies to sign NDAs (non-disclosure agreements),” MacKenzie said.
“Even if we don’t win the bid, our local companies look like they’re benefitting already.”