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In trip to Asia, Sen. Duckworth touts Illinois as an electric vehicle hub

Sen. Tammy Duckworth, seen here in February on Capitol Hill, announced the birth of a daughter, making her the first U.S. senator to give birth while in office.
Sen. Tammy Duckworth, seen here in February on Capitol Hill, announced the birth of a daughter, making her the first U.S. senator to give birth while in office.

U.S. Sen. Tammy Duckworth (D-IL) just got back from a trip to Taiwan and South Korea, where she pitched Illinois as a viable candidate for electric vehicle manufacturers.

A member of the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee, Duckworth met with leaders of both countries to discuss opening battery plants in the state.

Duckworth told WBEZ’s Reset that Illinois’ geographical location is an advantage.

“No better place in Illinois, where we're right in the middle of the country,” Duckworth said. “It makes it easier to send those batteries all over.”

This meeting comes as Illinois continues to lose out on battery plants to neighboring states.

General Motors is building a $2.3 billion battery plant in Ohio, while Ford is partnering with South Korean company SK Innovation to build three battery mega-factories in Kentucky and Tennessee.

And last month, Samsung and Dutch automobile company Stellantis announced that they’re building a $2.5 billion plant an hour east of Illinois’ border in central Indiana. Samsung had previously considered a site in Normal.

But Mark Denzler, president and CEO of the Illinois Manufacturers' Association, says his organization is hard at work with state officials trying to bring manufacturers here.

“We are a transportation hub,” Denzler said. “We're the only state in the nation with all seven class one railroads, and so Illinois is also a good destination for a battery facility.”

Denzler says auto plants usually like to have the battery plants nearby. Currently, there are four EV auto plants in Illinois: Rivian in Normal, Lion Electric in Joliet, Stellantis in Belvidere and Ford in Chicago.

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While these factors make Illinois attractive to manufacturers, Denzler says the state’s energy grid problems may cause a snag.

Much of Central and Downstate Illinois sits on the Midcontinent Independent System Operator grid. According to a new report from the North American Electric Reliability Corporation, areas served by this grid are at an elevated risk for blackouts this summer.

And because Illinois is in the process of shutting down fossil fuel plants by 2045, Denzler says energy prices are soaring.

“So for manufacturers, that may be 10s of 1000s, hundreds of 1000s or even millions of dollars more in higher energy prices,” Denzler said. “We're seeing that the higher rates and the lack of capacity come into play here probably sooner than other states.”

But Denzler says this is just one piece of a larger picture.

“We’re building an EV ecosystem here,” Denzler said. “Which is really important.”

Duckworth echoed the same sentiments during her visit last week. She says Illinois has invested millions of dollars in charging stations and other “friendly policies” toward EV.

“We have our own state incentives for buying electric vehicles on top of the federal ones. Not every state has done that,” Duckworth said. “And the state has also passed several pieces of legislation that promotes the building of electric vehicle components.”

The question that remains is whether those incentives will be enough to lure battery manufacturers away from neighboring competition.

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