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Can Central Illinois Be Silicon Valley of Electric Vehicles?

U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin on Thursday said that Central Illinois has the opportunity to become the electric vehicle "Silicon Valley of the 21st Century" because of investments that are being made in the region.

Electric Vehicle
(TNS) — U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin, D- Ill., on Thursday said Central Illinois has the opportunity to become the electric vehicle " Silicon Valley of the 21st Century" because of investments made here.

"This is the place where hardworking Illinoisans will produce the next generation of vehicles, with companies coming together with local leaders to build us, and to move us toward a cleaner and stronger economy," Durbin said during an afternoon news conference in uptown Normal.

He pointed to Rivian Automotive, the electric vehicle startup in west Normal that is readying for production, and toured the plant. The investment has touched off a series of other industry-related projects in the area.

Durbin, who is the Senate majority whip, and Normal Mayor Chris Koos on Thursday said Rivian and other EV initiatives — including Lemont-based Argonne National Laboratory's electric battery research facility and a statewide push for EV charging stations — as major factors in future job and economic growth in Illinois and nationwide.

The news conference came as fellow Democrat President Joe Biden is building support for investing $115 billion in an infrastructure plan that includes investments in electric vehicle manufacturing. Money would come through higher corporate taxes and canceling tax cuts made by former President Donald Trump.

Biden's American Jobs Plan aims to rebuild the country's infrastructure while investing billions into clean, renewable energy initiatives.

The president during his speech to a joint session of Congress last week said there is "no reason why American workers can't lead the world in the production of electric vehicles and batteries."

Biden wants to create a grant program for state and local governments and private companies to build 500,000 EV charging stations across America by 2023. The plan also incorporates new tax incentives to buy American-made EVs.

The Department of Energy estimates the U.S. has about 103,000 electric vehicle charging outlets and it will cost up to $60 billion to hit Biden's goal. U.S. Rep. Andy Levin, D- Mich., and New York Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez re-introduced legislation Wednesday that seeks to build a nationwide electric vehicle charging network within five years.

The investments have been questioned by some Republican lawmakers who say the market for such vehicles isn't there yet.

Durbin on Thursday said: "We know that infrastructure is more than just roads and bridges. We know that the transportation sector is looking toward the next generation of what it's going to look like. These funds would support the growth of businesses like Rivian, and ensures so many installation of charging stations all across America becomes common place."

A decade ago, Twin City leaders set a lofty goal to get 1,000 electric vehicles on local streets by 2014, launching EVTown, a community-wide effort to get residents to buy into battery-powered cars. Initially started as a partnership with Mitsubishi, EVTown brought 48 charging stations to Bloomington- Normal.

Normal is returning to that initiative with Rivian.

" Rivian and our community is leading the charge in innovative technology for automobiles and for batteries," said Koos. "They're creating new clean renewables for America right here in our community."

He added, " Central Illinois will become a hotspot for environmental efforts in EV technology and battery storage technology."

But supporting the growing EV market and supplying charging stations will not be enough, Durbin said. Preparing America for more EVs on the road includes committing to sustainable energy that will support and prepare the country's electrical grid.

Rivian, which purchased the shuttered Mitsubishi Motor Corp. plant in 2017, employs 1,250 people at its Normal production facility. The electric vehicle company recently purchased 380 acres west of the plant for $6.84 million for future growth and development.

Last week, it was announced that a new state electric vehicle worker training program would be established at Heartland Community College.

Durbin on Thursday also indicated a need for continued investment in battery technology research to diversify power resources. A majority of electric batteries are powered by lithium-ion.

"It isn't just highways and roads and bridges and tunnels that everyone supports, it is also our electrical grid, transmission of electric power across the United States from all sorts of sources," said Durbin. "We're going to need more electricity, we're going to need more clean sources of electricity, and we're working on that today.

"There's going to be a brand new source of infrastructure. I want Illinois to be ready for it."

© 2021 The Pantagraph (Bloomington, Ill.). Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

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