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Officials foresee jolt from battery manufacturing facility

Officials foresee jolt from battery manufacturing facility

General Electric’s proposed $100 million battery manufacturing facility in Schenectady County has th

General Electric’s proposed $100 million battery manufacturing facility in Schenectady County has the potential to attract additional businesses and jobs to the area, local officials said.

“It has the ability to create a strong green energy clustering effect in the county,” said Ray Gillen, director of economic development and planning for Schenectady County and chairman of the Metroplex Development Authority.

“There could be a lot of opportunities for suppliers,” Gillen added.

GE officials announced to local workers and union leaders its plan to build energy-storage batteries in a 270,000-square-foot facility at the GE Energy campus in Schenectady.

Officials from the company said they are in the process of ratifying an agreement with IUE-CWA Local 301 — the union representing workers at the GE Energy and Global Research Center — that would ensure existing jobs in Schenectady and create 350 new positions at the planned sodium-storage battery plant.

Mayor Brian U. Stratton said the union will consider the proposal within the next two weeks. “We are the leading site for the facility,” he said Sunday night.

Stratton said the proposed plant would introduce the first new product line by GE in Schenectady in a generation. “It is not only a new product line but a product line that makes us more competitive,” he said.

Stratton added that 350 jobs is a conservative estimate, and that more could be created once the plant is up and running.

GE Chairman and CEO Jeff Immelt in May said the facility will be in operation by 2011. He said the market for the batteries could reach $500 million in sales by 2015 and $1 billion shortly thereafter.

Gillen would not comment on project specifics, saying the company has yet to make a final decision on the plant. He added, however, that should GE green-light the plant, it would mark the move of a new business and product line to Schenectady County and would position the county for growth in the developing renewable energy market.

GE’s sodium-storage batteries would be used in new hybrid locomotives produced by GE’s transportation division, to store energy generated by turbines, windmills and solar collectors for use later and for other commercial applications. At some point, the company hopes to develop a battery to power cars, trucks and other vehicles.

Gillen said the manufacturing plant is another step in GE’s effort to build on its strong renewable energy and energy businesses in Schenectady County. The GE Campus, which runs along Interstate-890 in Schenectady and Rotterdam, contains the company’s turbine manufacturing facility and the headquarters of its renewable energy business. In Niskayuna, the company operates its world-class Global Research Center, where scientists are working on developing the sodium-storage batteries.

“Schenectady County has all the pieces of the puzzle,” Gillen said.

Susan Savage, chairwoman of the Schenectady County Legislature, said GE’s investment in Schenectady County “would position us well for the next generation. The future is linked to green jobs, manufacturing is linked to green jobs.”

Vincent DiCerbo, chairman of the Economic Development Committee on the Schenectady County Legislature, said the proposed facility “is a prime example of a community looking to the future rather than the past. If you asked someone 10 years ago what were the chances of GE bringing in a new product line, the answer would have been ‘no way.’ We have changed our attitude and relations with GE,” he said.

DiCerbo said, “A company like GE does not locate somewhere out of the goodness of its heart. They have to make a profit. It is a credit to us we were able to win this plant.”

GE announced in May it planned to build a battery manufacturing facility somewhere in the Capital Region. At the time, the state said it would invest $15 million into the project, and GE said it would seek federal stimulus money to help construct the facility. The federal Department of Energy is expected to announce grants for some $2 billion in federal stimulus money in the coming weeks.

According to MetalMiner, a trade publication that follows the metal industry, GE’s entry into mass production should lower costs of storage batteries and help power companies get more use from their equipment before having to upgrade.

Sodium-storage batteries are highly efficient with a long cycle life. They are constructed from low-cost, plentiful materials. Their drawbacks are they operate at temperatures of 570-660 degrees and create highly corrosive sulfides.

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