Article Originally Published: bizjournals.com
By: Paul J. Gough | Dec 22, 2022
Weirton, West Virginia’s heyday in the steel industry helped build the United States. State officials and a Massachusetts battery manufacturer hope in the future, it’ll help make real the clean-energy transition.
Form Energy and West Virginia announced Thursday that the company would build a $760 million battery plant at a site that for more than a century had been Weirton Steel. The 55-acre complex, when renovated and operational in 2024, will make iron-air batteries for renewable energy storage. There are 750 jobs that are expected.
Weirton, like a lot of steel towns in Appalachia, has seen better days. That was alluded to by West Virginia Gov. Jim Justice, who promised that the Form Energy announcement would “change forever more” Weirton’s trajectory.
Weirton’s change agent is Form Energy, a Somerville, Massachusetts-based sustainable battery manufacturer that is poised to do large-scale building of the multi-day batteries that will store electricity generated by renewable sources like wind and solar. That will likely be a vanguard in the transition to a lower-carbon energy future.
Form Energy, which has an advanced manufacturing plant in Eighty Four, Pennsylvania, said it looked at 500 initial locations in 16 states before it settled upon the site.
“It became abundantly clear that Weirton, West Virginia, a historic steel community that sits on a river and has the rich heritage, raw infrastructure and know-how to make great things out of iron, would be the ideal location for our first commercial battery production facility,” said Mateo Jaramillo, who is CEO and co-founder of Form Energy.
Jaramillo said the search took a year, and he credited West Virginia’s pro-business attitude, along with its commitment to workforce development, as prime reasons why the company is putting the plant in Weirton. West Virginia is committing up to $290 million in financing to the project, including $75 million by the West Virginia Economic Development Authority to purchase the land and to help with construction.
Form Energy told the Business Times it would have a mixture of existing and new construction for the site. Weirton will be the site of Form Energy’s first commercial battery production site.
The company’s advanced manufacturing operation, in Eighty Four, Washington County, will continue to be operational for the foreseeable future. The company told the Business Times there are 50 open positions at the Eighty Four site and more openings will be available in the new year.
The plans for the Weirton manufacturing plant are still to be shared, although it will be acquired from The Frontier Group of Cos., which owns the 55 acres at the Frontier Crossings Business Park through its Mingo Junction Steelworks LLC subsidiary.
“We are committed to provide the necessary assistance to Form Energy to forge a lifelong partnership and wish them success,” said Frontier Group CEO David Franjoine.
A company spokeswoman said Weirton was additionally attractive because of how close it was to the Eighty Four facility.
Jeff Kotula, president of the Washington County Chamber of Commerce, said the chamber was proud of Form Energy’s strong presence in Washington County and its role in scaling up the iron-air battery system for commercialization.
“If anything, their decision to invest in West Virginia underscores the fact that manufacturing can be a foundation for economic growth in Pennsylvania,” Kotula said. “This also highlights the need for the Greater Pittsburgh region to develop new industrial sites to accommodate these indigenous expansions and concentrate on investing in underutilized industrial properties to attract these projects.”
And the project would be transformative to the northern Panhandle of West Virginia. The Weirton Steel site has long been a focus of redevelopment work, and received $25 million in federal funding toward adding roads and other infrastructure.
Bryce Custer, a commercial real estate broker specializing in petrochemical and energy services for NAI Spring, said the Form Energy plant was part of a bright future for the region.
“This is tip of the iceberg for the northern Panhandle,” Custer said.