More Green Energy Follies
The past couple of weeks have been filled with bad news concerning President Obama's green-energy policies.
On October 16, A123 Systems -- a manufacturer of lithium batteries for electric cars -- became "the fourth major clean energy company backed by the Obama administration to fail" when it filed for bankruptcy. As the Washington Guardian reports, A123 Systems received "almost $6 million during the end of the Bush administration and then a $250 million grant from the American Recovery and Reconstruction Act after Obama took office." By the time it declared bankruptcy, the company had spent $132 million of the federal grant. If you add that to the $6 million the company received from the Bush administration, that is more than $138 million of taxpayers' money wasted on producing another green product for which there is little demand.
The story of how A123 received federal funding is a familiar one: from 2007-2009, A123 systems spent more than $1 million lobbying members of both political parties in Congress in a successful effort to secure federal funding. Two of the company's top executives "made personal donations to several high-profile Democrats in Congress." Four lawyers from Skadden, Arps, the firm that A123 Systems hired to lobby Congress for funding, "served as fundraising bundlers for Obama's 2008 election."
How many American jobs were "created or saved" by this $132-million grant to A123 Systems? Bloomberg reports that "A123 and its debtor and non-debtor affiliates, collectively, have about 1,763 active employees, located in 10 facilities across the U.S., China and Germany." Johnson Controls, a company based in Milwaukee, "plans to acquire A123's automotive business assets, including its facilities in Livonia and Romulus, Michigan," as well as "A123's cathode powder plant in China and its equity interest in Shanghai Advanced Traction Battery Systems Co., A123's joint venture with Shanghai Automotive Industry Corp." The company laid off 125 employees from its Michigan plant in November 2011, and presumably more layoffs are on the way.
(For those interested in allegations of insider selling at A123, the company's investments in the electric-car company for which it was supplying batteries, and batteries produced by A123 that turned out to be defective or inefficient, or that simply exploded when tested, I recommend the work of Kai Petainen at Forbes and the timeline compiled by the National Legal and Policy Center.)
Meanwhile, Solyndra, the manufacturer of thin-film solar cells that received a $535-million loan from President Obama's Department of Energy in 2009 and went bankrupt and laid off most its 1,100 employees in 2011, is back in the news. As Bloomberg reports, the U.S. government will not receive any money from Solyndra's sale of its assets. The sales are expected to generate about $71 million, and "lenders who rank ahead of the government, Argonaut Ventures I LLC and Madrone Partners LP, are owed about $77 million, about $6 million short of a full recovery." It should be noted that Argonaut Ventures I LCC is "the investment arm of billionaire and Obama fundraiser George Kaiser's charitable organization." To make matters worse, it is expected that "Obama fundraiser George Kaiser's charitable organization" will be set up as a holding company in order to inherit Solyndra's net operating losses and solar tax credits. The Wall Street Journal reports that the plan will enable Kaiser to save at least $350 million in future taxes.
On October 12, Vestas, a Danish manufacturer of wind turbines, announced that its American and Canadian subsidiaries have laid off 800 workers and may have to lay off 800 more, due to "uncertainty surrounding the Federal Production Tax Credit extension." The subsidiaries were on the receiving end of $50 million of stimulus funding from Obama's Department of Energy. Paul Rauber of the Sierra Club notes that the uncertainty surrounding tax credits has already caused wind-energy companies in Oklahoma, Arkansas, and Pennsylvania to lay off a combined total of 426 workers. (As Rauber fails to note, two of the three companies are foreign-owned.)
But wait, there's more! WoodTV's "Target 8" now reports that "workers at LG Chem, a $300 million lithium-ion battery plant heavily funded by taxpayers, tell 'Target 8' that they have so little work to do that they spend hours playing cards and board games, reading magazines, or watching movies. They say it's been going on for months." In spite of a $151-million stimulus grant from President Obama's Department of Energy, the LG plant, located in Holland, Michigan, has yet to ship out a single battery. A hundred of the plant's 200 employees are funded by the stimulus funding, and the Korean-based company "has spent $133 million [of the grant] so far, most for construction and equipment. ... About 40% has gone to foreign companies -- mostly to Korea." The plant is unlikely to produce more batteries any time soon, because "the last of the materials needed to make battery cells, including chemicals, was shipped back to Korea." It is worth noting that $533,000 of the grant was spent on a groundbreaking ceremony featuring President Obama.
(Incidentally, Michigan appears to be a particularly inauspicious place for federal green energy spending. In late spring of this year, the Mackinac Center for Public Policy reported that $34.5 million of U.S. taxpayer-funded grants and loans to green energy companies operating in Michigan resulted in the creation of only 183 jobs -- i.e., a cost of more than $188,000 per job.)
In a recent and timely article, Asche Schow of the Heritage Foundation published a list of 36 companies that received funding from Obama's Department of Energy "that have either gone bankrupt or are laying off workers and are heading for bankruptcy," including A123 Systems. Based on Schow's figures, this represents $10.2 billion of federal funding that has gone or will likely go down the drain, with few if any sustainable jobs to show for it.
Yet none of these developments have deterred the Obama administration from continuing to invest in green-energy projects that incidentally provide financial windfalls to certain favored states. The Hill's Energy & Environment blog recently reported that "the Interior Department set aside about 285,000 acres for commercial-scale solar in Arizona, California, Colorado, Nevada, New Mexico, and Utah. The federal government will offer incentives for development, help facilitate access to existing or planned electric infrastructure, and ease the permitting process in the 17 zones." It should be noted that Senator Harry Reid helped Interior Secretary Ken Salazar develop the final plan.
All of this green stimulus spending is in spite of the fact that the environmental rationale for it is becoming increasingly suspect. The U.K. Daily Mail recently publicized the quiet release of data showing that there has been no increase in aggregate global temperatures for the last sixteen years. If that is the case, then (according to the Mail's figures) global temperatures have remained the same or decreased in 56 of the last 72 years, or 78% of that time period. This hardly demonstrates a correlation between increased emissions and global warming.
From an economic standpoint, though, the verdict is clear: at great cost, President Obama's green energy policies have resulted in the destruction rather than the creation of jobs for Americans. If this money had been left in the hands of the private sector, many more jobs would have been created at companies providing goods and services that Americans actually want. Instead, the future earnings of Americans will now have to go toward paying off government debt rather than accumulating the capital that alone makes it possible for companies to create new jobs.