This week General Motors became the first major U.S. automaker to break ground on a plant to make "critical components" for plug-in electric and hybrid vehicles.

Maryland Gov. Martin O'Malley was present Tuesday at a ceremonial shoveling of dirt by GM executives and local politicians. The proposed addition will adjoin the complex that houses the company's two-mode hybrid and heavy duty transmission operations.

The $269.5-million plant construction had been previously announced, and GM said electric motor design and production represents a core business for the company as part of its plug-in and hybrid electric vehicle development and manufacturing.

More plug-in cars are being prepared for, as GM is in process of building a motor plant expected to become a new contributor to its growing core business.

The plant is expected to employ 190 people, according to Edmunds, and more than 200 people currently work at the transmission plant.

Construction is expected to begin in earnest in July, and the plant is slated to open in 2013 for production. In addition to nearly half the funding coming from GM, money for the project comes from a combination of federal, state and Baltimore County subsidies.

“We believe the future of sustainable transportation is electrically driven vehicles and this facility will help us maintain a leadership position within this category,” said Mike Robinson, GM vice president, Energy, Environment and Safety Policy. “It’s fitting that green ‘motors of the future’ are being built at a facility well recognized for ongoing efforts to reduce its environmental impact.”

2011 Chevrolet Voltec drive unit.

The campus will receive about 9 percent of its energy from a 1.23 megawatt rooftop solar array, expected to save approximately $330,000 during the life of the project.

“By harnessing solar energy from this array, GM will offset up to 1,103 metric tons of carbon dioxide from entering the air per year – equivalent to the emissions from 216 passenger vehicles,” said Robinson.

The solar power system will be built by Constellation Energy which will also own and maintain it. GM will purchase all of the electricity it generates under a 20-year power purchase agreement.

Constellation Energy’s first solar array for GM was a 951-kilowatt system at its Fontana, Calif., Service and Parts Operations warehouse.

Constellation Energy installed these solar panels on the roof of General Motors' two-mode hybrid and heavy-duty transmission building at GM's Baltimore Operations complex.

“Solar as a power-generation source is an attractive option for GM and other large-scale manufacturers to achieve environmental goals and control electricity costs,” said Michael D. Smith, senior vice president of green initiatives for Constellation Energy’s retail business.

As previously reported, GM uses renewable energy from solar, hydro, and landfill gas resources at various plants. In the United States alone, 1.4 percent of its energy consumption comes from renewable resources.

GM said the Baltimore Operations is both powered by renewable energy and it generates no landfill waste. It earned zero-landfill status in 2007 by recycling, reusing or converting to energy all wastes from daily operations.

Last year, the Baltimore Operations complex won a Maryland Green Registry Leadership Award for showing commitment to sustainable practices with measurable results.

“Our state is one of discovery and innovation, where traditional manufacturers like GM embrace the new technologies that move our companies, our commerce and our citizens forward,” Gov. O’Malley said.

Separately, GM said the GM Foundation and Baltimore Operations announced they will donate $20,000 to the Baltimore County Chamber of Commerce, Habitat for Humanity, Maryland Food Bank and the Wildlife Habitat Council. The donations are part of the Foundation’s Plant City Grants which will award a total of $1 million nationally to local communities with GM facilities.

Source: GM