‘Our game changer.’ Beshear tours on-schedule SK BlueOval EV battery plant

Published 5:28 pm Thursday, August 10, 2023

GLENDALE — In Glendale, the world’s soon-to-be largest battery plant is ahead of schedule.

Ford and SK Innovation announced their partnership to make Kentucky the electric vehicle battery capital of the country in 2021.

They invested $5.8 billion into BlueOval SK Battery Park, whose twin plants will begin producing lithium-ion batteries for Ford’s future, zero-emission vehicles beginning in 2025.

Wednesday, Gov. Andy Beshear toured the site and provided updates. He said that the plants were massive, as clean as a laboratory and technologically advanced, with some areas having as many as three different ceiling heights for maximum air conditioning control.

Thousands of workers were already inside, building the basic structure of the warehouse before equipment is moved in. But most importantly, Beshear said, the project is on schedule — and in some cases, ahead of schedule.

The first plant, Kentucky 1, is expected to be complete in December 2024, said BlueOval SK Plant Manager Ryan Wheeler. The second plant, Kentucky 2, is scheduled for December 2025.

As a kid, Wheeler and his brother used to fish on the 1,500-acre property now home to BlueOval SK. Coming back to Kentucky 27 years later and seeing the transformation is “amazing,” he said.

“I sit in meetings and I hear our CEO talk about Glendale, Kentucky, and Elizabethtown, Kentucky,” Wheeler said. “I hear SK, a $150 billion company, talking about Glendale, Kentucky, and Elizabethtown, Kentucky, and it’s chilling. It brings so much joy to me.”

Wheeler said that if the two plants were physically connected, they would combine to become the biggest manufacturing facility in the world.

At their peak, the plants will produce over 80 gigawatt hours of power annually. That equates to operation of almost a million electric vehicles a year, Wheeler said.

The plant will also bring thousands of jobs, families and infrastructure needs to Glendale and Elizabethtown.

According to the Hardin County Chamber of Commerce, the population increase from the plant’s 5,000 jobs is expected to exceed 22,000 people. This would make Hardin County the sixth most populous county in the state.

There is an anticipated need for nearly 9,000 additional housing units in the county to support its population growth.

Beshear said that this growth will be a challenge, but one that Kentucky wants. He said that his administration would push for more money for the affordable housing trust fund in the next budget.

“What it’s gonna require is both the public and the private sector coming together in different ways,” he said.

The Elizabethtown Community and Technical College is working on an on-site training center for the plants’ workforce. The Kentucky legislature allocated $25 million for this center in a September 2021 special session.

BlueOval SK Human Resources Director Neva Burke said that hiring has begun for hourly employees and engineers from the area. The pay is competitive, she added.

Beshear emphasized the gravity of the project for the future of the state as the energy transition to electric vehicles progresses.

“This is our game changer. Not just for this region but for the entire Commonwealth of Kentucky,” he said. “It didn’t just put us on the map overnight, it made us a leader.”

Beshear added that in the past, Kentucky has failed to secure industries, to its detriment. But this time, it got in on the ground level.

“This project, I believe, was the key to us continuing to have these manufacturing jobs,” he said. “And listen, 5000 jobs and a cleaner planet is a good deal.”