By John Cropley
Gazette Business Editor
NISKAYUNA — Environment One Corp. will expand its Balltown Road factory by tens of thousands of square feet and create scores of new jobs over the next five years as it begins contract production of a new battery for electrical utilities.
Eric LaCoppola, president of the company popularly known as E/One, said he expects to break ground in April or May on a 35,000- to 40,000-square-foot phase one expansion that should be completed later this year. The timetable and size of phases two and three will depend on the progress of phase one.
E/One currently has about 150 employees. All production and administration is done at the 75,000-square-foot Niskayuna office/factory complex, but it also has salespeople working worldwide.
The company now has two very different product lines: low-pressure sewer equipment (for systems that use pumps instead of gravity to move wastewater) and monitoring equipment for critical auxiliary equipment such as hydrogen cooling systems for power plants.
The third production line will be zinc hybrid cathode batteries that store electricity. The electricity can by produced by intermittent sources such as wind turbine and solar photovoltaic cells for later distribution in the electrical grid, such as when the sun sets and solar panels stop producing electricity for the day. Or it can be produced by conventional fossil fuel-burning power plants during low-demand hours and stored for use during peak consumption hours.
The batteries will not be a third radically different product line — they will share some core technologies with the utility monitoring equipment.
E/One has been working with New York City-based Eos Energy Storage on test production of the battery and will ramp up to full production when the Niskayuna expansion is complete.
E/One expects to spend about $10 million to build the facility and another $10 million to equip it. It will receive up to $1.25 million from Empire State Development in Excelsior Jobs Program tax credits tied to creation of more than new 80 jobs at the site and retention of more than 130 existing jobs on site.
E/One also will be gaining a local property tax break on the new construction. Metroplex Chairman Ray Gillen said the company will continue to be taxed on the current full value of the now-vacant land where the new production line will be built. When the new factory space is complete, the town will assess it and the company will be taxed on 50 percent of its value in the first year, then 5 percentage points more each year until it reaches full taxation in 10 years.
Town Supervisor Joe Landry welcomed news of the expansion, noting that E/One has had a positive impact on the town for decades.
“They’re very good to work with, they’re good corporate citizens,” he said. “We’re looking forward to seeing the next set of drawings.”
LaCoppola said ABD Engineers of Schenectady is under contract for the expansion project.
He also said Tuesday’s announcement caps a great few years for E/One. 2014 was strong, 2015 was the best year the company ever had and 2016 exceeded 2015, he said.
Environment One — originally Environmental Technologies Inc. — was born in 1969 when six employees of what was then GE Research & Development purchased intellectual property rights to a few products GE was not planning to take to market and set out on their own. It was acquired in 1998 by Precision Castparts of Oregon, which was acquired in 2016 by Berkshire Hathaway.
LaCoppolla said E/One takes great efforts toward lean manufacturing — obtaining maximum production efficiency per dollar of operating cost — and he attributed Eos Energy Storage’s decision to collaborate with E/One to E/One’s efficiency.
“The Eos megawatt energy storage product may actually define the electric utility industry’s investment cycle over the next 20 years and E/One, as a fabricator with a tremendous track record in lean manufacturing, further enables Eos to compete in this dynamic global space,” he said in a news release.
LaCoppola said current national and world events may impact E/One’s fortunes significantly — the strong U.S. dollar makes its products more expensive overseas and a trade war, if one ensues, will make its exports more expensive still.
“Roughly a quarter of our business is exporting around the world,” he said. “There’s more unknowns today than ever.”
Meanwhile, if there’s a boost in infrastructure spending, as has been discussed at the state and national level, E/One stands to benefit.
“We’re on top of the list of people to call to fix problems,” LaCoppola said.
“We’ve got plenty of growth potential.”
Gov. Andrew Cuomo and state officials lauded the expansion and partnership in a news release Tuesday and noted that the New York State Energy Research & Development Authority helped support development of the Eos Aurora system.
The governor’s office said Eos is a member of the NY-BEST Consortium, created in 2010 to position New York state as a global leader in energy storage technology. It said NY-BEST now has more than 150 members, including manufacturers, academic institutions, utilities, technology and materials developers, start-ups, government entities, engineering firms, systems integrators and end-users.