LEXINGTON, Ky. — EnerBlu Inc. is suspending plans to build a $300-plus million battery cell manufacturing plant in Pikeville, the company announced Tuesday.
“EnerBlu is currently working with the assistance of Citibank on a revised plan that would require a lower capital investment, without compromising the potential mid- and long-term future of the company,” said John Thomas, the company’s new chief executive officer. “This is not the end; but a change in direction that we are confident will lead to a prosperous future for EnerBlu in Kentucky.”
“We are disappointed with this setback for EnerBlu,” said Jack Mazurak, communications director with the Kentucky Cabinet for Economic Development. “At the same time, we believe this is a temporary setback for a Kentucky company. We also recognize this comes as a tremendous blow to Pikeville and Eastern Kentucky.
“While EnerBlu steps back and reworks its plans to move forward, we will stand by to offer support. Our cabinet applauds the company’s persistence, dedication to Kentucky and vision to make a positive long-term impact in the commonwealth and for a clean-energy future.”
The action comes after EnerBlu’s primary potential investor withdrew its support of its planned Pikeville factory. The investor, a predominant U.S.-friendly investment company that does not currently operate in Eastern Kentucky, had identified EnerBlu’s technologies and development plan as the ideal fit for its solar generation development roadmap. However, this potential investor in January cited a series of unexpected geopolitical factors that occurred in the final two months of 2018 as the reason for withdrawing support of the planned factory.
EnerBlu also has reorganized its leadership and has appointed Thomas as the company’s new CEO. Thomas, who most recently was EnerBlu’s chief product officer, will assume the company’s top leadership post immediately.
Thomas was the original program leader of the Tesla Model S vehicle and factory teams; a member of the “EV 100,” a group named by Ernst & Young as the 100 most influential people in the world of electric vehicles; and founder of a post-Tesla startup company selected for a Forbes 100 Most Promising Companies Award.
“John brings world-class experience in traditional automotive manufacturing settings, as well as the electric vehicle space,” said EnerBlu Executive Chairman Michael Weber. “His blend of product development and operation execution expertise, combined with a proven track record of successful technology startups, will help reposition EnerBlu and provide us with a path to a prosperous future.”
Thomas said he regretted having to suspend plans for the Pikeville facility, but the decision was necessary.
“EnerBlu’s vision of a multi-gigawatt hour, Made in the USA battery campus to re-empower the Energy Capital of the U.S. is only achievable with the support of prominent partners in the energy sector,” Thomas said. “We are extremely disappointed with this potential investor’s decision and are well aware of the hope that EnerBlu’s project has generated in Pikeville and the Eastern Kentucky region.”
EnerBlu’s plans called for its manufacturing campus to be built in Pikeville on approximately 400 acres at the Kentucky Enterprise Industrial Park, a reclaimed coal mining site that offers prime flatland in coal country.
Although the new plans may cause a shift in direction for the company, EnerBlu’s new CEO noted a positive experience over the past year.
“Eastern Kentucky holds a tremendous opportunity for manufacturers, especially with their available skilled workforce, low cost, and development of sites,” Thomas said. “As we move forward as a company to develop a viable and impactful project, we encourage other companies to discover what we found within this region of Appalachia. We have experienced an incredible level of support from the leadership of the City of Pikeville, the contribution of the economic development executives was off the charts, universities, local electric utilities, and state and federal leaders did everything to pave the way.”
EnerBlu’s team is continuing its plans to bring revolutionary electric vehicles and grid storage products to market utilizing both Lithium Titanate (LTO) chemistry and advanced power electronics. Thomas said such activities are examples of operations that could fit well at a site like the Kentucky Enterprise Industrial Park.
“I am entirely confident that John and his team will pursue all options to bring industrial activities to Pikeville as we are reorganizing. We know the people and we want to be back asap!” said Weber.
Mazurak, with the cabinet for economic development, said: “Our cabinet works hard to attract new, disruptive and innovative companies to the commonwealth. By definition, some of these companies will undergo stressful periods as they seek capital while simultaneously proving out their technology.
“We remain committed to recruiting new and expanding companies and new jobs for Eastern Kentucky, and in fact for the entire state. Eastern Kentucky has many assets, including an available and highly-trained workforce, and we will continue to tell that story as we talk with industries throughout the world.
“Working with startup companies is an important part of Kentucky’s overall economic development efforts. We’re working to make Kentucky a place where companies receive support in their quest to succeed. It’s also important to note the vast majority of CED incentives are performance-based, as they are in this case. Such incentives have built-in safeguards protecting the state when businesses don’t achieve their milestones.”