ROBSTOWN, Texas — Monday was the first opportunity the community had, to hear from Tesla on their proposed lithium refinery facility. Tesla previously filed a chapter 313 tax application which revealed details about the facility they want to bring to Nueces County.
In the first public presentation to Nueces County residents, Tesla representatives said this area is attractive because of the the logistics of railways and the Port of Corpus Christi, the existing workforce and the possibility of tax incentives.
“One of the reasons we are quite excited about this region is because there is a talented workforce," Rohan Patel said, lead for business development policy at Tesla. "A workforce that has done things in the industrial sector that can be transferrable.”
The proposed facility would sit between Robstown and Driscoll in unincorporated land. That has Robstown city officials excited for economic growth.
“Tesla in our opinion will not only bring, not only the facility here, but also other companies that want to follow them,” Robstown Mayor Gilbert Gomez said.
The questions and comments turned contentious as the conversation pitted those concerned for environmental and public health versus those looking for economic development.
“I’m looking at things like diversity, we’re so oil and gas and this is such a wonderful opportunity and you see yourself as a player with the other industries that we have. Oil and gas, petrochemicals because they've done so much for us," said Jill Strzinek, a Corpus Christi resident excited about the opportunity to welcome in Tesla.
“You are concentrating the burdens of the energy demand on our community in our air, our water and our soil. This is the first of it’s kind, why are we the test subjects?” Dorothy Pena said with Indigenous Peoples of the Coastal Bend.
Tesla representatives did detail that the refining process would be a new process not done before. Patel said when it comes to runoff or contamination, it's would be minimal as the byproduct is like a sand material.
“We’re taking risk in terms of the process," said Patel. "We’re taking risks in terms of really trying to make more environmentally friendly, these industrial processes.”
Many environmentalists were concerned about the refining process and what, if any, air or water pollution would come of it. Patel and associate Karen Steakley were dealt many questions about the refining process. They were unable to answer those questions.
Tesla representatives were able to get figures for how much water would be needed. The facility needs 400,000 gallons a day. On a day of peak usage it would be about 800,000 gallons a day. Steakley said that is less than 50 percent capacity to the South Texas Water Authority. She said 90 percent of their water is recycled and reused. Patel said they were told water would not be an issue.
As for jobs, Patel promised there would be at least 150 new jobs that pay, on average, $82,000 a year.
Questions were asked on Tesla's contribution to the creation of roads and flood prevention in the area of interest. Patel said while there's no designs yet and he wasn't certain on an answer, he did say infrastructure upgrades would be needed.
Tesla would also like to partner with local colleges and universities to incorporate a training curriculum that would allow people to be hired locally.
In the end commissioners must decide on whether to give Telsa the tax break. Patel said the company is still considering Louisiana as a United States option. However, they haven't ruled out Canada and Australia as possibilities.
“If we were making a decision based on any kind of tax or incentive package, this site would not make sense for us,” he said. "Because in Canada for example, the number of different types of incentives for this type of material processing far exceeds what happens in the United States and in Texas."
A second public hearing has been scheduled for Jan. 4th.