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  • New projections for Alabama aluminum plant: $4.1 billion, late 2026 completion


    An aluminum manufacturing plant under construction in North Baldwin County is rivaling the most expensive projects in Alabama history after Novelis announced earlier this month that project costs have escalated more than 60% over original projections, to $4.1 billion.

    The new capital costs for the plant in Bay Minette were included in an earnings report released on Feb. 12. Also included was an updated timeline for the project that extends the construction from an early 2025 completion to late 2026.

    “We are building this plant not just for today, but for the next 40 years and beyond,” said Steve Fisher, president and CEO, Novelis Inc. “Bay Minette will be a true plant of the future, combining our decades of experience with the latest technology to improve safety, efficiency, and the sustainability of our products, while also providing the ability to double future capacity in a cost-effective manner.”

    Fisher said the company remains confident in the profitability of its investment into Alabama.

    “With customer contracts for beverage packaging already signed, and automotive contracting proceeding as planned, we remain confident int he double-digit return of this historic investment,” he said.

    The plant has been under construction since October 2022, when ground was initially broken on the project. Initially projected to cost $2.5 billion, the manufacturing plant is expected to consume much of the 3,000 acre South Alabama MegaSite property. Also initially projected was the plant bringing approximately 1,000 new jobs with an average annual salary of around $65,000.

    It’s unclear on if the increased project costs will lead to an expansion of the original project, or if more employees will be added. It’s also unclear if the project expansion will alter any of the original incentives offered to the company by Alabama state, and local officials.

    Callie Cox, spokeswoman with the Novelis project in Bay Minette, declined to go into further detail, saying the company “is currently in a quiet period due to restrictions imposed by U.S. federal securities laws.”

    Baldwin County Commission Chairwoman Billie Jo Underwood said they were unaware of any anticipated additional requests from Novelis, excepted to extend the timeline for the project’s completion.

    “The Baldwin County Commission has been in constant and consistent communication with Novelis leadership since the start of their project in Baldwin County,” Underwood said in a statement to AL.com. “We could not be more pleased with the corporate partner and investor Novelis has been so far. After the earnings call last week, Novelis leadership immediately made the Commission aware of the revised investment and timeline for the Bay Minette project and communicated their unwavering support for the project and Baldwin County.”

    She added, “Given that the new completion date announced by Novelis last Monday is now 2026, we expect a request to amend our existing agreement to accommodate the new completion date. There are no other known anticipated requests from Novelis.”

    Lee Lawson, president & CEO with the Baldwin County Economic Development Alliance, said he is also unaware of any additional requests for incentives.

    The incentive package totals to about $123 million total in tax abatements, infrastructure improvement and economic incentives.

    A representative with the Alabama Department of Commerce & Economic Opportunity did not respond to a request for comment.

    “We are appreciative of Novelis in the community,” said Lawson. “We understand their investment (project costs change) is a significant revision and a positive one for the community. Their CEO statement in the earnings release says they are committed to the project and the community. From that, my reaction is it’s a positive and the company is showing their commitment to the project and us as a community.”

    The adjusted project costs will put the Novelis plant on par with some of the most expensive developments in Alabama’s history.

    Lawson compared the costs to Thyssenkrupp, a steel manufacturing plant in Mobile County that has an estimated price tag north of $4 billion. By way of comparison, the Toyota-Mazda plant in Huntsville had an estimated price tag of under $2 billion.

    See more here: New projections for Alabama aluminum plant: $4.1 billion, late 2026 completion - al.com

  • Ivey school choice legislation advances in House committee

    MONTGOMERY — On Thursday, the Alabama House Ways and Means Education Committee passed Gov. Kay Ivey's amended education savings account (ESA) legislation called the Creating Hope and Opportunity for Our Students' Education (CHOOSE) Act.

    State Rep. Danny Garrett (R-Trussville) is sponsoring the House version of the bill and presented it before the committee for a public hearing on Wednesday.

    House Bill 129 (HB129) will allow the Department of Revenue to manage the ESAs for approved students. The ESA would be funded through a refundable income tax credit made available to eligible parents. The ESAs would be capped at $7,000 for students in participating schools, while non-participating school students – such as homeschooled students – are capped at $2,000 per student and $4,000 per family.

    "The first two years, families whose income is at 300% of the federal poverty level or less can direct a portion of the taxes they pay toward alternative public, private or homeschool education expenses. After the first two years, any parent is eligible to participate, but a priority will be given to families based on their income. Upon the CHOOSE Act becoming law, throughout the state, options will become immediately available to students who are able to access an [ESA]. In areas of the state where no alternative options exist, and there are many, the CHOOSE Act can be a vehicle to provide financial support for the creation and development of options in those areas," Garrett said.

    Critics of school choice have long bemoaned the perceived adverse effects on the state's Education Trust Fund [ETF]. Garrett stated that the Act would not "gut or adversely affect" the ETF and that initial funding would come from supplemental appropriations.

    The CHOOSE Act appropriates at least $100 million to the education savings account program annually. Ivey has set aside $50 million for the fund in the Fiscal Year 2024 Education Trust Fund supplemental.

    ESAs are capped at $100 million under the amended bill, and the cap would only increase if at least 90% of the currently allocated funding is utilized through the program. Garrett also pointed out that this year's budget will increase funding for public K-12 schools by $370 million. 

    The amended bill would require participants to be lawful residents of the United States, cap total ESA funds at $500 million before the excess begins funneling into the ETF, require participating schools to be Alabama-based, require annual test scores be given to parents and require that school assessments be shared with the Revenue Department.

    At Wednesday's public hearing, many traditionally anti-school choice associations spoke on the bill from a "neutral" perspective, such as the Alabama Education Association (AEA), School Superintendents of Alabama, Alabama School Connection, The Alabama Association of School Boards and the Alabama Association of School Boards.

    Allison King with the AEA was first to the podium, commending Ivey and her staff and other lawmakers for working to put "a lot of good provisions and protections."

    Several other school choice proponents spoke in favor of the legislation, including leadership for the state's catholic schools.

    A number of homeschool and micro-school supporters also neutrally addressed the bill while still advocating for better provisions in the bill for homeschool families.

    One person opposed the bill, Carol Gundlach with Alabama Arise, who claimed that the tax credit would reduce ETF revenue and, therefore, reduce further cuts to Alabama's grocery tax.

    State Rep. Barbara Drummond (D-Mobile) argued against the bill after the public hearing on Wednesday, bemoaning the lack of perceived qualifications in non-public education.  

    "I want these kids who are choosing the vouchers, if this bill passes, I want them to be taught by certified teachers," Drummond said.

    She continued, "If they're teaching letters and the science of reading in public schools, I would want to know that those children are getting the same curriculum, or having those teachers who meet this [Alabama Literacy Act] standard; they're certified. I don't want it to be a case where these students over here who have chosen the school choice vouchers, that they're getting educated by individuals who may not meet public school standards."

    Garrett took umbrage with Drummond's use of the term "voucher," also saying that the state would "never" tell private schools what its criteria must be, so long as they meet the state's accreditation requirements.

    On Thursday, the committee met briefly to vote on the bill, giving it a favorable report. It will now go to the House floor for a vote, expected on Tuesday of next week.

    Read the rest of the story here: Ivey school choice legislation advances in House committee (1819news.com)

  • Odysseus Spacecraft Completes First U.S. Moon Landing Since 1972

    America is back on the moon. 

    An uncrewed spacecraft developed by Houston-based Intuitive Machines landed on the lunar surface Thursday evening, the first time a U.S. vehicle has touched down there in more than 50 years. 

    The company’s Odysseus vehicle, carrying research and commercial devices, descended from lunar orbit to land shortly after 5:20 p.m. CT in the moon’s south pole region, according to a NASA livestream.

    The U.S. last visited the surface of the moon in 1972, during the final mission of the storied Apollo program. 

    Thursday’s operation was a milestone for the U.S. space industry and program, marking the first time a private company has completed a moon landing. Past attempts by other companies have failed, and successfully landing on the lunar surface has even challenged governments. 

    It wasn’t immediately clear after touchdown that the lander made it, leading to several tense moments before Intuitive Machines said it was able to start communicating with the vehicle and confirm its arrival. 

    Intuitive Machines’ vehicle is carrying NASA research devices under a $118 million contract, as well as commercial cargo, including a sculpture project from artist Jeff Koons. The company and its customers are expected to have about a week to run devices before lunar night sets over the site where Odysseus landed, rendering it inoperable.

    NASA has historically handled moon flights in house, overseeing vehicles and mission operations. Several years ago, the agency hired U.S. space companies, including Intuitive Machines, to develop uncrewed landers and land them to the surface with cargo in tow.

    Engineers and technicians at the companies designing the spacecraft and missions have been pushing to find ways to get to the moon without expansive government funding.

    Landing on the moon is difficult. Attempted visits by a Japanese company and Russia’s space agency failed to softly touch down last year. In January, a moon vehicle developed by Astrobotic Technology didn’t attempt a landing because of a fuel leak. 

    Part of the challenge is slowing vehicles down through the moon’s extremely thin atmosphere as they try to touch down. 

    Intuitive Machines has said it designed Odysseus to ease down to the surface, reducing its velocity by about one mile a second to land at a speed of roughly 3 feet a second. SpaceX launched Odysseus on its trip to the moon on Feb. 15 from Florida. 

    NASA is driving efforts to eventually return U.S. astronauts to the lunar surface, overseeing work by U.S. aerospace contractors to develop rockets, space suits and other vehicles for a series of planned missions. The agency last month delayed a planned human return to the moon to September 2026 at the earliest. 

    READ MORE: Odysseus Spacecraft Completes First U.S. Moon Landing Since 1972 - WSJ

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