Last updated on August 8th, 2019 at 11:19 am
Even with all the changes to Foxconn Technology Group’s plans for its Mount Pleasant campus, the executive chairman of WEC Energy Group says there is still a possibility the utility would at least partially meet the company’s energy needs with a large scale solar array at the site.
The 22 million-square-foot LCD fabrication facility originally proposed by Foxconn would have required 230 megawatts. Gale Klappa, executive chairman of Milwaukee-based WEC Energy Group, last year indicated the utility and company were discussing the possibility of using solar for 100 to 150 megawatts of that demand.
But Foxconn’s plans have changed significantly from the original project with the company opting for a smaller LCD plant and more product flexibility instead of building large display panels. The company’s first main manufacturing facility will be around 1 million square feet.
Klappa noted Foxconn had “substantially reworked” the first phase of their plans during the first quarter of the year. He said the utility does not expect much change in energy demand for the project’s first phase, pointing in particular to a high-capacity data center planned to support the campus’ research activities.
Foxconn included a data center among its planned projects in a January announcement but has provided no other details. Klappa has mentioned the data center on multiple earnings calls this year.
“With the addition of a data center, which was not in their original Phase 1 plan, we don’t see at the moment a lot of change in demand,” Klappa said. “Now that they are putting all the final designs in place for Phase 1, letting construction projects and letting construction contracts, we will be in a lot better position to talk with them about how we’re going to meet their energy need.”
“I think solar is still a possibility and we’ll see where we go, but they really have not been in a position as they’ve redesigned Phase 1 to really talk about that kind of detail at this stage of the game,” Klappa added.
He said that the company would likely have a better idea if solar will fit into Foxconn’s Wisconsin energy needs by the end of the year.
Company executives also said this winter’s polar vortex demonstrated the need for investments in its gas distribution network between Milwaukee and the Illinois border.
“We had already identified the need for additional gas capacity there,” said Kevin Fletcher, chief executive officer of WEC Energy Group, citing increased demand from Foxconn and other economic development projects. “But with the polar vortex it showed us that the need that we had identified was certainly one that’s something that we need to address very quickly.”