Biden’s energy chief warns against threats to cut climate incentives

Energy Secretary Granholm said EV and other clean energy incentives fueling jobs and investment boom in domestic manufacturing
U.S. Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm speaks at a Georgia Tech town hall on Wednesday, June 28, 2023 about electric vehicles, green energy initiatives and other Biden administration efforts to improve infrastructure and fight climate change. The town hall was hosted by the AJC and Georgia Tech. (Arvin Temkar / arvin.temkar@ajc.com)

Credit: Arvin Temkar/AJC

Credit: Arvin Temkar/AJC

U.S. Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm speaks at a Georgia Tech town hall on Wednesday, June 28, 2023 about electric vehicles, green energy initiatives and other Biden administration efforts to improve infrastructure and fight climate change. The town hall was hosted by the AJC and Georgia Tech. (Arvin Temkar / arvin.temkar@ajc.com)

As federal incentives for electric vehicles and clean energy fuel a jobs surge in Georgia and beyond, U.S. Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm suggested Wednesday that Republicans would harm communities welcoming new, green jobs if they follow through on threats to gut the programs that spurred those investments.

“Once you get steel in the ground, those communities start to hire people, you’re not going to undo 10 years worth of tax credits when companies have relied on the promise of being able to get those,” Granholm said during a town hall in Atlanta.

“Let’s just try to throw all the politics out,” she added. “The reality is, on the ground, we now have a policy to make sure that we can manufacture stuff in America again and be competitive globally, and that is really a good thing for the United States.”

Granholm’s remarks during an event co-hosted by the Atlanta Journal-Constitution and Georgia Tech came in response to questioning about Republican criticism of President Joe Biden’s policies, including the Democrats’ signature climate and health bill known as the Inflation Reduction Act.

Gov. Brian Kemp and former President Donald Trump, the Republican frontrunner for the GOP presidential nomination, have slammed the billions committed by the Biden administration toward transitioning the economy away from fossil fuels and bolstering domestic EV manufacturing and supply chains. In terms of incoming jobs and investment, few states have benefitted more from those incentives than Georgia, several analyses show.

Still, the tax credits and other subsidies have become a political flashpoint in the state.

While Trump is campaigning on repealing the incentives, Kemp has sought to take a more nuanced stance, celebrating the investments and jobs as a success of his own administration while accusing Democrats of putting “their thumb on the scale” by picking which companies to support.

“When President Biden and others falsely try to take credit for Georgia’s success, don’t forget that next year is an election year,” Kemp said at a Tuesday ceremony for a new $800 million Anovion Technologies factory in Bainbridge that is directly benefitting from the incentives Kemp criticized. Kemp called for the incentives to be taken away or given to “everybody” to “make the playing field completely level.”

Granholm is touring the country highlighting the Biden administration’s economic and environmental policies.

Currently, China dominates the electric battery sector — from mining rare metals to building EV components.

”With these incentives, we are turning the corner,” Granholm said.

The IRA leverages federal tax credits of as much as $7,500, but only for EVs that are assembled in North America. Foreign brands that had been benefitting from EV tax credits previously balked at losing them under the IRA, especially those that had already announced plans to build factories in the U.S.

Officials for Hyundai Motor Group, which is currently building a $5.54 billion EV factory near Savannah, are among those who have spoken out, because their factory won’t be pumping out American-made vehicles until the end of 2024 at the earliest.

Granholm described the domestic manufacturing requirement as “tough love” that will pay off in American jobs in the end.

“Ultimately, that’s the reason why we’re seeing all of this investment, because everybody wants to be able to qualify for that full credit,” she said.

The energy secretary’s visit coincides with a push by Biden to take credit for reviving American manufacturing ahead of the 2024 elections. The Department of Energy released a report this week showing a 34% increase in clean energy jobs in the state between 2021 and 2022.

Since 2020, EV makers and their suppliers have announced more than 40 projects in Georgia totaling more than 28,400 announced jobs and $22.7 billion in anticipated investment, according to Kemp’s office.

In addition to Hyundai, EV startup Rivian is planning a $5 billion factory east of Atlanta. Cox Enterprises, which owns the AJC, has about a 4% stake in Rivian. Suppliers to the EV and battery sector are also sprouting across Georgia.

Though both of Georgia’s future EV assembly plants were announced before passage of the IRA, experts say companies committed billions to build U.S. factories in large part because of federal tax credits and other subsidies already on the books or that Biden campaigned on.

Beyond EVs, Granholm said federal incentives to households to lower energy costs and make homes more efficient will create huge savings for Americans.

Georgia also has enjoyed a wave of solar investment. Earlier this year, solar panel giant Qcells launched a $2.5 billion expansion of its Georgia production footprint, in what the company and federal and state officials say is the largest ever investment in clean energy manufacturing in U.S. history. This includes a new plant in Bartow County and an expansion of Qcells’ existing factory in Dalton.

Granholm characterized the administration’s emphasis on wind and solar development as a way to bring down costs while securing American energy production from geopolitical upheaval.

“No one can weaponize access to the sun and access to the wind,” she said, standing before a slide of Russian President Vladimir Putin, which drew laughs from the audience. The international community has enacted harsh sanctions against Russia over the war in Ukraine, but Russia remains a major oil producer.

Granholm also expressed support for nuclear energy production, despite years of delays and cost overruns at Plant Vogtle in Georgia, the first nuclear power plant to be built from scratch in the U.S. in decades.

“We believe that nuclear power is part of the future,” Granholm said, while acknowledging the project’s setbacks.

“I think there are lessons that abound from that, and it’s one of the reasons why our allies across the world are waiting to see what happens at Vogtle,” she said.


A note of disclosure

This coverage is supported by a partnership with 1Earth Fund, the Kendeda Fund and Journalism Funding Partners. You can learn more and support our climate reporting by donating at ajc.com/donate/climate/

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