Gov. Brian Kemp picked an unusual spot to deliver his sharpest remarks yet against President Joe Biden’s green energy initiatives: an electric battery supplier that is directly benefiting from a surge of federal spending championed by the White House.
At a Tuesday ceremony for a new $800 million Anovion Technologies factory in Bainbridge, Kemp framed the state’s green energy boom as the product of state-level Republican policies — and not, he said, “because the federal government continues to put their thumb on the scale, favoring a few companies over the industry as a whole.”
“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, pointedly praising the “unsung heroes” in his administration working to recruit businesses.
“They don’t posture or showboat,” Kemp added, “and they don’t try to steal credit while they churn out victories like this all over the state and in record time.”
Sitting in the Bainbridge crowd of dignitaries was a high-profile target of Kemp’s message: U.S. Sen. Jon Ossoff, the first-term Democrat who won office two years ago with a promise to back Biden’s promise of a green energy renaissance by supporting his new spending initiatives.
It was the clearest example of the tricky path Kemp has taken in approaching the Biden-approved initiatives that have devoted billions of dollars to speed a seismic shift toward cleaner energy sources — outlays opposed by many Republicans but beneficial to Georgia.
The packages were unanimously rejected by Georgia’s GOP congressional delegation as too costly and wasteful, and deemed by Kemp as federally sponsored favoritism. But they’ve also helped fuel a jobs and investment bonanza that have turned the state into a growing hub for electric mobility.
Since 2020, EV makers and their suppliers have announced more than 40 projects accounting for nearly 30,000 jobs in the state, headlined by massive Hyundai and Rivian plants that account for a combined $10.5 billion in investment.
Those two automakers announced their projects before the federal Inflation and Reduction Act and its promise of lucrative incentives for electric vehicles was on the books, though they’ll still benefit from the perks.
But a parade of other clean energy companies have unveiled new investments and expansions in Georgia, including some that have partly credited Biden-backed laws.
Credit: Natrice Miller / Natrice.Miller@ajc.com
Credit: Natrice Miller / Natrice.Miller@ajc.com
The solar manufacturer Qcells linked a $2.5 billion expansion announced earlier this year to Biden’s package, leading the president to declare it was a “direct result” of the Inflation Reduction Act, the tax and health care law that passed Congress over unified GOP opposition.
And Anovion, which plans to build the largest synthetic graphite production facility in North America, hasn’t been shy about linking its Bainbridge plant to the federal laws.
The company was awarded a $117 million grant to spur domestic battery manufacturing under the federal infrastructure law, a $1 trillion package that passed with bipartisan votes — but no support from Republicans in Georgia’s delegation. And Anovion’s plant could benefit from other incentives under the federal tax measure that seek to hasten a shift away from fossil fuels.
Anovion chief exeuctive Chip Dunn said “Georgia stood out” because of its proximity to busy nearby ports, access to nuclear energy and the state’s budding battery manufacturing pipeline.
“The whole supply chain is being built up around the Southeast in particular, and Georgia is number one in that effort.”
Echoing fellow Democrats, Ossoff said it’s foolish to deny the ongoing impact of the federal incentives, particularly on a “good news” day when politicians should be uniting in praise of a new project in a part of the state hungry for economic development.
“This is a day when we should come together and celebrate that federal infrastructure and manufacturing incentives are fueling tremendous growth,” Ossoff said Tuesday. It’s not, he added, a time for “political drama.”
‘Winners and losers’
The ongoing feud over the incentives will have implications beyond the state’s economy.
It seems certain to factor into the 2024 race for the White House, which some will see as a referendum on Biden’s economic agenda. And it could offer a prelude to Ossoff’s reelection campaign in 2026, when Kemp could pose his biggest threat to a second term.
This is perilous ground for Republicans — and particularly Kemp, who could have designs on federal office. While a recent University of Georgia poll showed a majority of Georgians support using incentives to foster the state’s EV industry, the idea is deeply unpopular with a segment of the GOP base.
That was clear earlier this month at the state GOP convention in Columbus, when former President Donald Trump drew raucous applause from many in the crowd of more than 2,000 party activists when he promised to end green energy incentives on his “first day in office.”
The governor didn’t disagree with Trump, his political nemesis, despite their sharp divide on other key issues. A few days after Trump’s speech, Kemp also endorsed a repeal of the tax breaks on certain conditions.
“I’m in line with where President Trump was on that,” the governor said. “We either need to do one of two things: You need to give them to everybody or take them away, just make the playing field completely level.”
The governor sharpened that message in Bainbridge, acknowledging the “unprecedented job growth” in clean energy while also admonishing the government not to dictate how the growth happens.
He’s particularly upset about a provision in the law that restricts vehicles assembled overseas from qualifying for lucrative perks, meaning that Hyundai’s customers can’t qualify to receive those benefits until 2025, when its $5.5 billion Georgia plant is up and running.
“We aren’t picking winners and losers,” he said of Georgia’s approach. “We’re letting the market drive this innovation and expansion.”
Georgia has long offered its own subsidies for job-creating developments, along with incentives to targeted industries worth billions of dollars. Kemp promised during his 2018 campaign to roll back or eliminate some of the perks; lawmakers are now meeting to carry out a long-awaited review.
State Rep. Ron Stephens, chair of the House Economic Development Committee, can’t help but see the discord coming back to haunt Georgians.
“I’m more worried about our own attempt to kill our own incentives that have made us the No. 1 state in the country to do business,” the Savannah Republican said.
State Sen. Sonya Halpern, an Atlanta Democrat, said Kemp and other Republicans shouldn’t dismiss the “enormous investments the federal government is making” to spur the industry.
“Perhaps this is a best-case scenario of a divided government, with the efforts of both federal and state officials working together for the best outcome,” she said. “All of these green energy investments are great for our state.”
Some see Kemp’s stance as a savvy political maneuver that could provide a path for other Republicans. Rick Dent, a veteran strategist who served as an aide to three Democratic governors, said Kemp is “absolutely perfect” in his messaging on the federal green energy subsidies.
“Want to know why? Because he sounds like a real Republican — or at least what a Republican used to sound like,” he said. “He’s talking job creation, economic development and prosperity for all — market-driven job creation without government meddling.”