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FirstEnergy powering up for Ultium

Electric company spending $31M-plus to service plant

LORDSTOWN — FirstEnergy will invest more than $31 million here to expand its transmission system to support the rapidly growing electric-vehicle industry, led, in part, by the advanced technology battery-cell plant Ultium Cells LLC.

The two-phase project will supply a backup line to the massive Tod Avenue SW facility and a third primary line meant to “accommodate projected future energy needs,” Lauren Siburkis, spokeswoman for the Akron-based electric company, said.

Under construction now is phase one, a new 106,250-square-foot substation on Tod Avenue SW near Henn Parkway and a half-mile, high-voltage transmission line that will connect to an existing high-voltage line nearby.

“Basically all that is doing is offering a backup power feed so that if the weather caused an outage on that line that is serving the battery-cell plant, they would have a backup line to be able to feed electricity into the facility,” Siburkis said.

Work on the $19.6 million project is expected to be complete in April, which is about when work on phase two should begin.

The $12 million phase two is a new 3.5-mile, high-voltage transmission line to meet “Ultium’s energy load growth once they ramp up production” and infrastructure to support the line, according to the company.

“This battery plant will be fine getting up and running before this second phase of the project is completed, but as the battery plant grows and its energy needs become greater, this is going to be a third source of electricity for them (and) so that we are able to support the load growth on their end,” Siburkis said.

Two miles of the new line will use existing steel towers, “minimizing the impact on the local environment,” Siburkis said. The new line will be built on steel and wood structures. The lines will connect the new substation, called Magellan, to the Highland substation on Highland Avenue.

The Ohio Power Siting Board approved phase one of the project last year. FirstEnergy has an application filed earlier this month pending before the siting board for phase two, according to its website.

Ultium Cells LLC — the joint venture of General Motors and South Korea’s LG Chem — is a $2.3 billion investment to mass produce electric-vehicle battery cells that will power several future GM models as the automaker moves toward an all-electric vehicle lineup.

The plant, about 3.1 million square feet on 158 acres, will employ upward of 1,000 workers at full production. Production is expected to launch sometime in early 2022.

Late last year, Ultium Cells acquired 144.2 more acres of land near the plant that’s under construction from Lordstown Motors Corp., an electric truck startup that purchased the former GM plant from the automaker after it idled the facility in March 2019.

One parcel is 45.6 acres on Hallock Young Road and the other is 98.6 acres on Tod Avenue. It was acquired to support placement and routing of utilities to support Ultium Cells, but does offer a bit of flexibility in the future for the company.

The power project, Siburkis said, also will benefit the more than 15,000 Ohio Edison customers in Lordstown and surrounding communities by helping to reduce the frequency and duration of power outages.

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