(Editor’s note: This story has been updated with new information about the scope of the deal and its impact on Ford’s plans to become carbon neutral.)
Ford Motor Co. will announce a major new partnership with DTE Energy today that will allow it to switch to “100% carbon-free electricity” for its Michigan plants by 2025.
As part of the deal, Michigan’s largest utility company will add 650 megawatts of new solar power for the automaker, increasing its currently installed solar generating capacity by 70 percent.
“This unprecedented agreement is all about a greener and brighter future for Ford and for Michigan,” said Jim Farley, president and CEO, Ford Motor Co., said in a statement released ahead of a Tuesday news conference. “Today is an example of what it looks like to lead … to turn talk into action.”
Farley later noted the deal makes Ford the largest purchaser of clean energy in the state of Michigan. The company built a 500-kilowatt solar array on four acres next to its Wayne, Michigan plant in 2009. This new deal calls for 1,300 times the power produced by that array.
Farley also noted the deal accelerates the automaker’s plans for making its plants carbon neutral by a decade.
Jobs and energy
The project is expected to create 250 temporary jobs, according to DTE, and 10 permanent ones. The deal will be handled as part of the utility’s MIGreenPower program and is being billed by the partners as “the largest renewable energy purchase ever made in the U.S. from a utility.”
DTE, which has had its share of problems keeping the lights on for customers in recent years, is promising to keep Ford plants humming around the clock, according to George Andraos, Ford’s director of energy.
The amount of energy covered by the Ford purchase is the equivalent of about 1.3 coal plants, each typically producing about 500 megawatts of energy. The key difference is that the solar panels that will be used to service Ford will only generate power during daylight hours.
“Ford was the first large industrial customer to enroll in our MIGreenPower program in 2019 and we thank Ford for its continued commitment to using MIGreenPower to help decarbonize its operations and meet its sustainability goals,” said Jerry Norcia, chairman and CEO, DTE Energy.
A critical time
The announcement comes at a critical time for Ford. The automaker has ramped up its plans to electrify its line-up following the success of its first long-range battery-electric vehicle, the Mustang Mach-E. Demand has also far exceeded Ford’s initial expectations for the new F-150 Lightning. The all-electric pickup is being assembled at a new facility at Ford’s century-old Rouge manufacturing complex in the Detroit suburb of Dearborn.
But the deal is just the latest in Ford’s move to source green energy. When it announced plans to build BlueOval City near Memphis last year, Farley said the a 5 square-mile manufacturing complex would eventually rely entirely on solar and wind power.
The automaker isn’t the only automaker turning to alternative power, however.
Other automakers turn to green energy
Volkswagen installed a 9.5 mW solar array in 2014 to help power its assembly plant in Chattanooga, Tennessee. It initially provided 12.5% of the factory’s energy needs and that has been expanded since then. The automaker’s various brands, including VW and Audi, have added solar power arrays in Europe and other parts of the world, as well.
General Motors has installed a number of solar and wind power sources, including arrays used to charge the electric vehicles assembled at its Factory Zero plant in Detroit.
Rivian is using a 2.8 mW wind turbine at its assembly plant in Normal, Illinois.
Stellantis plans to use power from an 800-acre solar array to help power a new battery plant in Kokomo, Indiana.
And as BMW attempts to cope with shortages in Germany of natural gas resulting from the Russian invasion of Ukraine, it is investing in a variety of alternative energy sources that include not only solar and wind, but geothermal and hydrogen, as well. The German automaker recently announced plans to turn a new factory in Debrecen, Hungary into the world’s first auto assembly plant to run entirely without the use of fossil fuels.
Tesla is not only using solar power at its various plants but has not become a major provider of solar arrays through its Solar City arm.
But the Ford/DTE partnership is the largest solar energy project yet lined up by an automaker.
Joseph Szczesny contributed to this report.