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Fed Battery Boost a Bust

Monday October 22nd, 2012   •   Posted by K. Lloyd Billingsley at 11:08am PDT   •  

In 2009 the federal government gave a $249 million grant to A123 Systems, a green energy manufacturer touted by President Obama as an example of “what’s possible in a clean energy economy.” The company used the money to make batteries for electric cars in two Michigan factories. But since 2009 the company lost $857 million and after spending $129 million of the federal grant, and 14 straight quarterly losses, A123 Systems has filed for bankruptcy.

The U.S. Department of Energy also gave $151 million to LG Chem, a Korea-based company that also got special deals from the state of Michigan and property-tax breaks from cities such as Holland. LG Chem planned to make 15 million battery cells a year for the Chevrolet Volt, an electric car touted by the Obama administration. But LG Chem has yet to ship out a single battery and workers pass the time playing cards, on company time funded by taxpayers. The Volt, it seems, is not selling according to expectations.

President Obama set a target of 1 million electric cars on the road by 2015. Fewer than 50,000 have been sold since 2011 and in September General Motors halted production at the factory producing the Chevrolet Volt because of slow sales. Electric cars have limited range and must be charged with electricity produced by power plants, so they are not exactly pollution-free. Stimulus failures, meanwhile, are not limited to batteries.

The solar-energy firm Solyndra, also highly touted by the Obama administration, got $535 million in stimulus funds and claimed that “Solyndra’s power solutions offer strong return on investment and make great business sense.” But despite more than half a billion federal dollars Solyndra duly went bankrupt, shutting down operations and laying off all employees on August 31, 2011. Solyndra’s glass tubes have been recycled in the “SOL Grotto,” billed as an “architectural sculpture” in the University of California Botanical Garden in Berkeley. So the federal stimulus package will, after all, have a legacy beyond failure and bankruptcy.

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October 2012