EDITORIAL: Nevada finalist for Tesla battery plant

Nevada is no stranger to multibillion-dollar, private-sector construction projects that, once finished, employ thousands of people.

However, all of them have been hotels. The state has long sought new industry to diversify its economy, add large numbers of jobs, make big investments in Nevada and help change perceptions about the state and its people. There has been progress, but the idea that these goals could be fulfilled by a single company, in a single project on the scale of a megaresort, has been wishful thinking.

That changed Wednesday. California-based electric car manufacturer Tesla announced Nevada is a finalist for what might be the most coveted project in the country: a $5 billion, 10 million-square-foot, lithium-ion battery plant that could employ up to 6,500 people when it reaches full production in 2020.

By then, it would make more batteries than all of the world’s suppliers do today.

Arizona, New Mexico and Texas are also in the running. As reported by the Review-Journal’s Adam Kealoha Causey, construction is expected to start this year, so it won’t be long before the company’s final decision is made.

Nevada has a lot going for it. The state is closest to Tesla’s Bay area operations. Nevada has the country’s only active lithium mine and abundant lithium deposits. And, as reported by the San Jose Mercury News’ Dana Hull, Tesla wants to power the factory as much as possible with renewables such as solar and wind. Nevada’s climate can certainly accommodate that.

Tesla is bullish on the electric car market. It plans to introduce an SUV and a new sedan that will sell for much less than its $70,000 Model S, which was named Consumer Reports’ top car. But investors appear to be excited about the company’s planned “gigafactory” because the batteries won’t be built exclusively for cars.

“The applications for these battery systems include backup power, peak demand reduction, demand response and wholesale electric market services,” Tesla said in the Wednesday regulatory filing about the plant. “We plan to ramp sales of these products in 2014.” The facility would be the largest industrial building in the Las Vegas Valley if it were built here.

Being a finalist is great news. The Governor’s Office of Economic Development and regional and local officials deserve the state’s full support in closing this deal. What news could be better in time for Nevada’s 150th birthday?

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