OUR VIEW: Green Energy hopes fade

March 21, 2012 by  
Filed under Green Energy News

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The Green Energy movement. It held such great economic promise just five short years ago, when some economists were predicting Indiana could add 45,000 jobs as the demand for electric vehicles, wind turbines and other products ramped up.

Now green energy has become, in many cases, an unaffordable pipe dream propped up by heavy government subsidies — that is if the startup firm managed to produce more than a prototype vehicle.

Consider the following for Indiana:

• Hybrid van maker Bright Automotive pulled the plug on operations last month after the Energy Department failed to finalize a $314 million loan three years after the company sought the money.

• Norwegian electric car maker Think Global, with a plant in Elkhart, filed for bankruptcy last year. A reorganized company with new owners plans to restart production of the tiny electric car.

• The future of Connersville’s Carbon Motors is very much in doubt as the Energy Department decided not to loan the company $310 million to produce high-tech, fuel efficient, purpose built police cars.

• EnerDel parent, Ener1, a maker of lithium-ion batteries for plug-in electric cars, filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection in January, citing competition from battery makers in China and South Korea. The company employed 250 workers last November in Indiana, but had planned to have 1,400 workers in Indianapolis before 2015. The company had supplied Think Global and other firms with batteries.

• Solar panel manufacturer Abound Solar is planning to start production in an unfinished transmission plant just west of Tipton next year. The company plans to hire between 800 and 1,000 workers as part of a $400 million federal loan guarantee. Little outward changes have been made to the building since Getrag abandoned it back in 2008.

Delaware County has not been left untouched by the bursting of the Green Energy bubble. As reported in Tuesday’s Star Press, wind and solar streetlight maker VAT Energies is essentially not operating. The promise of about 100 jobs in exchange for $1.5 million in incentives from Delaware County resulted in a couple of dozen streetlights installed and 13 more in storage in the unused BorgWarner plant.

In addition, Brevini Wind has struggled to ramp up employee numbers as the demand for wind turbines has stalled. Fortunately, gear boxes can be used in other applications, so it would be premature to write off Brevini Wind as a bust.

Delaware County officials involved with incentives deserve credit for taking steps to limit the financial loss to the county by restructuring agreements and recovering some funds already expended on VAT and Brevini.

It’s a hard rule of economics that most new businesses fail. And during the depths of the Great Recession, economic leaders were willing to see Green Energy as the holy grail of future job growth.

That might still happen, but economic conditions will have to change to make alternative energy sources and transportation economically viable.

With a gallon of gas rising 40 cents overnight to $4.19, that serves to remind that Green Energy projects might yet have some life, but the days of unbridled enthusiasm for them appear to be over.

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