Image: Bill Ford
Paul Sancya  /  AP
Ford Chairman Bill Ford Jr. on Thursday announces plans to redevelop the company's shuttered 320-acre assembly plant in Wixom, Mich., into a renewable energy park.
updated 9/11/2009 11:18:37 AM ET 2009-09-11T15:18:37

Longtime environmental advocate and Ford Motor Co. Executive Chairman Bill Ford Jr. on Thursday formally announced a massive recycling project — a $725 million plan to retool a plant that once made Thunderbirds into one that churns out storage batteries and solar panels.

"We're recycling our Wixom facility and transforming it into what we believe is the largest renewable energy manufacturing park in the United States," Ford said from the factory floor of the former Wixom Assembly Plant, which closed in 2007 after 50 years.

Ford joined Gov. Jennifer Granholm and officials from Xtreme Power of Kyle, Texas, and Clairvoyant Energy of Santa Barbara, Calif. The companies plan to buy the 320-acre Wixom Assembly Plant if state tax incentives and federal loans are approved.

The Legislature gave final approval to some of the tax breaks Thursday, while others are expected to be passed and sent to Granholm next week.

Some lawmakers were hoping to get the tax incentives in place in time for a Monday deadline to apply for federal loan guarantees for renewable energy projects. Granholm was confident that the bills would be passed and the project would proceed.

Ford declined to reveal financial terms of the purchase agreement to reporters after the announcement. He said during his speech that the plant served his family's auto company "exceedingly well for half a century," and he "can't imagine a better way to reuse the facility."

Up to 4,000 direct jobs possible
The park could employ at least 2,800 workers building storage batteries, solar panels and possibly wind turbines. The companies involved say it could eventually create more than 4,000 direct jobs, including local suppliers.

Less than half of the 4.7 million square feet of building space would be used to make the companies' own products; the rest would be leased to suppliers and other renewable energy companies. The companies also are looking to add a university facility on site to conduct research and train engineers and other highly skilled workers.

Xtreme makes large-scale energy storage and management systems for utilities, wind farms and manufacturers. The batteries can store energy during the night that can be used in the day, for example.

Clairvoyant makes solar power stations. It's helping to build the world's largest rooftop solar plant at a General Motors Co. factory in Spain.

Xtreme would hire 2,500 workers at Wixom between late 2011 and 2014, with the potential to create another 1,500 supplier-related jobs at or near the plant. Clairvoyant, whose manufacturing partner would be Switzerland-based Oerlikon Solar, could hire 300 employees starting in late 2011 and add another 700 later if business is good.

Granholm said the state, which has suffered through many plant closings and the recent bankruptcy reorganizations of GM and Chrysler Group LLC, worked with the parties involved in the energy park proposal to build "a business case that is second to none."

"This is symbolic for Michigan of what we are to become," she said. "We don't want to be viewed as Luddites in this state."

Dave Hardee, chairman and CEO of Clairvoyant, said the state's hard economic times and manufacturing muscle make projects like this crucial.

"Michigan needs (to) and will reinvent itself," he said.

Copyright 2009 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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