When Barack Obama arrived in Holland, Michigan to break ground for the new Compact Power plant in July 2010, he promised that the $150 million in subsidies that prompted the construction of the new facility would result in more than 300 jobs and an assembly line producing batteries for the Chevy Volt and the Ford Focus electric vehicles. He told workers that these batteries and jobs would not have been possible without his massive stimulus package, which funded his green-tech subsidy program at the Department of Energy (via Nexis):
So for years, you’ve heard about manufacturing jobs disappearing overseas. You are leading the way and showing how manufacturing jobs are coming right back here to the United States of America.
For example, the workers at this plant, already slated to produce batteries for the new Chevy Volt, learned the other day that they’re also going to be supplying batteries for the new electric Ford Focus as soon as this operation gears up. And that means that by 2012, the batteries will be manufactured here in Holland, Michigan. So when you buy one of these vehicles, the battery could be stamped “made in America,” just like the car. …
The progress we’ve made so far is not nearly enough to do — undo the enormous damage that this recession caused. As I’ve said since the first day I took office, it’s going to take time to reverse the toll of the deepest downturn in a generation. And I won’t be satisfied as long as even one person who needs a job, and wants to work, can’t find one. But what I’m absolutely clear about, and what this plant will prove, is that we are headed in the right direction, and that the surest way out of the storms we’ve been in is to keep moving forward, and not go backwards.
There are some folks who want to go back, who think that we should return to the policies that helped to lead to this recession. Some of them made the political calculation that it’s better to obstruct than to lend a hand. They’ve said no to tax cuts; they’ve said no to small-business loans; they’ve said no to clean-energy projects.
Maybe Obama should have listened. Fast forward 27 months and $150 million later, and the Compact Power plant has begun furloughing workers for which Obama claimed credit. Not only that, but all of those batteries stamped “Made in America” turned out not to here … but in South Korea:
Workers at the Compact Power manufacturing facilities in Holland, Mich., run by LG Chem, have been placed on rotating furloughs, working only three weeks per month based on lack of demand for lithium-ion cells.
The facility, which was opened in July 2010 with a groundbreaking attended by Obama, has yet to produce a single battery for the Chevrolet Volt, the troubled electric car from General Motors. The plant’s batteries also were intended to be used in Ford’s electric Focus. …
The 650,000-square-foot, $300 million facility was slated to produce 15,000 batteries per year, while creating hundreds of new jobs. But to date, only 200 workers are employed at the plant by by the South Korean company. Batteries for the Chevy Volts that have been produced have been made by an LG plant in South Korea.
The factory was partly funded by a $150 million grant from the U.S. Department of Energy. LG also received sizeable tax breaks from the local government, saving nearly $50 million in property taxes over 15 years and another $2.5 million annually in business taxes. Landing the factory was hailed as a coup when shovels first hit the ground.
It’s difficult to know what to say at this point that hasn’t already been said. If this was a good investment, then investors would have provided the funding for it. That’s what Mitt Romney meant during the debate when he hammered Obama on the green-tech subsidy program that spent $90 billion on flyers like Compact Power, Abound Solar, and Solyndra, all of which flopped — and many more besides, like Ener1. Government doesn’t pick winners and losers — it picks losers, because winners don’t need the government to subsidize them in the first place.
This is yet another example of the same dynamic. The electric-vehicle push has been a bust, the solar-panel push has been a bust, and taxpayers end up holding the bag … again.