Pinal Partnership Panel Nov 12

SAN TAN VALLEY — Now that Lucid Motors has begun delivering luxury electric vehicles to customers, is Nikola Motor Co. far behind?

At a Pinal Partnership breakfast on Friday, Nikola Global Head of Manufacturing Mark Duchesne alluded to a “rough spot” but said that the Coolidge facility is producing trucks and hoping to build another 30 before the end of the year.

Duchesne said those trucks would be going to dealers, the marketing team and potentially, the company’s initial customers.

At the moment, Duchesne said 150 employees are working in the Coolidge plant, two-thirds of them with Pinal County addresses.

“Our ecosystem starts with community,” Duchesne said, praising Coolidge and local officials like City Manager Rick Miller whom Nikola has worked with. “That leads to where we are now.”

Duchesne said Nikola would produce another few dozen trucks by the end of March 2022, which would go directly to customers.

While Duchesne was tight-lipped about Nikola’s first customers, Anheuser-Busch, the company that makes Budweiser beer, had put in an order for hundreds of trucks in 2018.

Erik Ellis, vice president of development with BrightNight Power, noted that the increase in solar development around the county is tied to a rapid decline in solar prices. BrightNight and Cordelio Power are working on plans for a 2,400-acre solar farm north of Florence, which they hope to have open by 2024.

“If we go back to when I started in 2005, solar prices for utilities were high,” Ellis said. “Now we are seeing utility-scale projects producing power at 2-3 cents per kilowatt hour, a dramatic reduction in costs, and there’s no foreseeable end in sight.”

Ellis said there are technological advancements on the horizon that would drive prices down, such as using newer photovoltaic cells, the kind that go on rooftops, instead of needing giant solar collectors.

The other speakers on the panel included Hesston Klenk, senior manager with Resolution Copper and Shelby JM Duplessis, president of land development with The Empire Group.

Duplessis offered some insight on the increase in “build-to-rent” properties that are now coming to Pinal County after gaining popularity in the Phoenix metro area.

Duplessis said the trend to rent is in part due to younger generations’ housing needs.

“Those children want to move out of parents’ homes, and they need a place to go,” Duplessis said. “Many can’t afford to buy but would rather be in a home than an apartment.”

Duplessis downplayed the possibility of precarious economics driving the need for renting, and said it is instead a consumer preference.

While the panelists’ various projects are not directly connected, they did note the interconnection of their markets and how solar, copper and EV trucks fit into a picture of future sustainability.

While Resolution Copper has come under criticism for how its mining proposal would impact the environment, Klenk acknowledged that mining had left behind a poor legacy in the past and that “we have to show we can do it differently.”

Despite noting that Resolution’s marketing push now focuses on the need to mine new copper for green industries like electric vehicles, Klenk said that it is important to recycle copper as well.

“Copper is infinitely recyclable,” Klenk said. “We have to take what has been extracted and reuse it and make it as beneficial as possible to reduce the impacts.”

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Aaron Dorman is the Casa Grande reporter at PinalCentral, covering government, schools, business and more. He can be reached at adorman@pinalcentral.com.

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