Feds give $31.7 million to convert ex-coal plant in Detroit to clean energy
An Ypsilanti-based company was selected to receive $31.7 million from the U.S. Department of Energy to build an energy efficiency window plant in Southwest Detroit.
The plant, located at a former coal plant site, will be the country’s first high volume, automated vacuum insulated glass production plant and is expected to bring 277 local jobs, according to a Monday announcement.
The project by LuxWall, Inc. is one of seven nationally sharing in $275 million from the U.S Department of Energy (DOE) to strengthen clean energy supply chains and accelerate domestic clean energy manufacturing, bringing much needed jobs to former coal communities.
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“President Biden's Investing in America agenda is driving the manufacturing boom while preserving the communities and workforce that have powered our nation for generations," U.S. Secretary of Energy Jennifer M. Granholm said in a press release. “With these historic investments, DOE will bring new economic opportunities and ensure these communities continue their key role in strengthening America's national and energy security.”
Windows are the largest source of energy loss in buildings, which account for 26% of global energy-related emissions, according to the International Energy Agency. Compared to conventional windows, LuxWall claims their energy efficient windows have 45% more heat retention in the winter and 60% more cooling retention in the summer.
The LuxWall facility is planned for Southwest Detroit’s Delray neighborhood, on the former Detroit Edison plant site. Delray is the quintessential coal town.
In 1930, the neighborhood’s population peaked at 23,000 residents before heavy, polluting industry drove a majority of the residents out. Today, Delray is considered one of the most polluted areas in the region and just a few thousand people remain. The neighborhood hosts one of the largest sewerage treatment facilities in the country, the Marathon oil refinery, and the former Detroit Edison Plant.
Monday’s announcement is in keeping with Biden administration efforts to provide green energy jobs to workers in former coal communities. And as Bridge Michigan recently reported, it aligns with some developers’ efforts in Michigan to repurpose former industrial sites for manufacturing rather than building new factories on rural greenfields.
In addition to bringing jobs to the Delray neighborhood, LuxWall will install windows for residents through a community benefits agreement, and provide training and apprenticeship programs. The company is expected to manufacture up to 562,000 vacuum insulated glass units per year at the Detroit facility.
A company representative could not be immediately reached for comment.
Rhonda Anderson, a retired environmental justice organizer for the Michigan Sierra Club, said the new plant could be good for the neighborhood.
“That would be definitely good for that area since most of Delray has been decimated,” she said.
Anderson raised the concern over whether the jobs will truly go to Detroiters, pointing to other instances when new manufacturing plants failed to give permanent jobs to Detroiters when they were built.
Theresa Landrum, a Delray resident and an environmental justice activist, also has concerns about jobs.
“There’s always the promise of jobs – that’s always in there. The challenge that we face is employment of people from the area, of actual Detroiters that are in the impacted area,” she said.
Landrum said she hopes LuxWall will conduct a survey as a part of the community benefits agreement, to assess how many residents are in Delray and their health. She also hopes the community will be at the table to discuss details like vegetation, buffers, and truck traffic to the plant.
The Bill Gates-backed company is expected to open a second Michigan facility, for a total investment of $165.6 million in Michigan, and 453 jobs, according to a July press release from the Michigan Economic Development Corp.
Other companies selected by the DOE in this round of funding seek to manufacture in the lithium-ion battery sphere, scale production of mid-size wind turbines, and manufacture other critical materials for clean energy and green steel supply chains.
The selection is not a guarantee of award disbursement. The seven projects will now undergo a negotiation process with the Department of Energy at which time the department could cancel the selection at any time.
The department plans to move quickly on another investment round in the manufacturing sector, according to the Monday release.
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