Vice President Kamela Harris flew to Chattanooga in April to herald what she believes to be a new era in American manufacturing and green investment, including the nation’s largest solar panel manufacturing facility, which is expected to create 2,500 jobs in Dalton and Cartersville, Georgia.
The $2.5 billion in solar manufacturing facilities being built and added in Whitfield and Bartow counties by South Korea-based company QCells are part of what the White House estimates will attract more than $45 billion in private investment in projects for clean energy, electric vehicles and batteries in Tennessee and Georgia in recent years. Such projects have been fueled in part by tax credits and grants approved under stimulus and environmental measures pushed by President Biden and his Democratic compatriots but criticized by Republicans.
Despite majority opposition from Republican lawmakers in Tennessee and Georgia to the Inflation Reduction Act and other stimulus measures, the two states are getting a larger share of green investment encouraged by the new federal programs. The White House last week launched a website tracking $470 billion worth of investments in the production of electric vehicles, batteries, computer chips, biotechnology and clean energy projects supported by the new tax credits or aid.
Tennessee has 24% more green investment per capita than the rest of the country, and Georgia has more than twice the green investment per capita of the US as a whole.
According to Middle Tennessee State University political scientist Kent Syler, Tennessee has benefited more than most states, in part because it has paved the way for such investments over the past four decades as the state has expanded its auto industry.
“With a mature automobile manufacturing base dating back to Governor Lamar Alexender’s hiring of Nissan in 1980, the state was a natural choice,” Syler, a former chief of staff to U.S. Representative Bart Gordon, said in an email last week. “Biden funding has made things move faster.”
With Ford Motor Co. planning a $5.6 billion electric vehicle and battery facility near Memphis, Tennessee will become one of only three states with four different major automakers assembling cars and trucks within its borders. Electric vehicles are already being manufactured at Volkswagen’s Chattanooga General Motors plant in Spring Hill and at the Nissan plant in Smyrna.
Jade Byers, a spokesman for Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee, said the governor has made “strategic infrastructure and labor investments to prepare our state for continued economic growth” by leveraging federal assistance for road, sewerage and broadband improvements and programs for Worker training and even creating worker training programs launched a $50 million nuclear fund to attract more nuclear power companies to Tennessee.
Republican Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp, a former real estate developer, has also tried to use the new incentives to attract EV makers and battery companies to the Peach State.
In his first inaugural address, Kemp pledged that by the end of his new term, Georgia would be “the electric mobility capital of America.” Georgia has attracted over $30 billion in new green energy investments, including three new electric vehicle plants from Hyundai and Rivian and a $2.6 billion battery plant from Freyr Battery and Koch Industries.
Republicans, who denounced Biden’s economic and environmental policies as both inflationary and a threat to energy independence, welcomed the new green investments.
“I support all types of energy,” said US Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-Ga.), who called the QCells investment “amazing” in her district.
Greene, a frequent White House critic who has called for Joe Biden to be impeached, was conspicuously absent from Vice President Harris’ announcement that QCells had won the largest contract in US history to build modules for more community solar projects. Supported by new federal tax credits and other incentives, Summit Ridge Energy plans to purchase 2.5 million solar panels from Qcells over the next four years to build community solar projects in Illinois, Maryland, Maine, Virginia and Pennsylvania.
“These loans have been absolutely critical to this expansion of Qcells,” said Michael Carr, director of Solar Energy Manufacturers for America, during Vice President Harris’ visit to Dalton.
Proponents of the new green energy incentives insist they are paying off for the southern states.
“In the months since the Inflation Reduction Act’s groundbreaking clean energy guidelines went into effect, the private sector has made tremendous investments to build our clean energy future,” said Jonathan Levenshus, director of federal energy campaigns at the Sierra Club, in an email statement last week. “New manufacturing means new, family-sustaining jobs for hard-working Americans, including here in Tennessee and North Georgia with solar, battery and electric vehicles. In fact, clean energy companies have announced or advanced projects that account for more than 142,000 new projects.” These investments are creating clean energy jobs for electricians, mechanics, construction workers, technicians, support workers and many others.”
But Greene and other Republicans have criticized Democrats for trying to phase out use of the United States’ supposedly abundant fossil fuel supplies, which is driving up energy prices and potentially creating energy shortages.
“Democrats’ push for a far-left green energy agenda in the energy space puts our country at risk of blackouts and bankruptcy,” US Senator Bill Hagerty said in a tweet last week. “We need a comprehensive approach to energy that facilitates energy security, economic security and national security.”
Chuck Laine, president of the Tennessee Mining Association, said the state’s coal industry has shrunk as utilities have replaced coal production with other energy sources and environmental regulations have pushed up the cost of mining and burning coal.
“The Obama-Biden administration has declared war on coal,” Laine said in a phone interview.
Laine said the last underground mine in Tennessee closed a few years ago and that open pit mining is also largely at a standstill with current coal prices in Tennessee. The Tennessee Valley Authority plans to shut down the last of its coal-fired power plants by 2035.
TVA has turned more to natural gas, but tighter gas pipeline and pollution controls have also curtailed some gas production, which is why environmentalists have urged TVA to also step down in a bid to limit any greenhouse gas falls.
Speaking to the Senate as the White House unveiled its spending plans, US Senator Marsha Blackburn called Biden’s infrastructure plan “a dork” that fails to meet key Tennessee needs.
“His big talk on Green New Deal programs got us the nonsense of an infrastructure package that pretty much ignores roads, bridges and broadband,” Blackburn said. “They have turned away from those needs. They have decided to throw billions of dollars to the environmental lobby to make them happy.”
Blackburn blamed Biden’s spending programs for ballooning the federal deficit.
“Our children and grandchildren cannot afford the unsurmountable debt we intend to leave them,” Blackburn said in a statement last week.
At last week’s cabinet meeting, Biden attempted to draw public attention to the new investments made during his tenure in the White House.
After $1.9 trillion in pandemic aid, Biden signed a $1 trillion bipartisan infrastructure bill into law, which went into effect. He also secured more than $250 billion in investment in computer chip production and scientific research, and created hundreds of billions of dollars in new tax incentives for renewable energy sources.
“‘Invest in America’ is more than just a slogan,” Biden said Tuesday. “For the first time, America is actually investing in itself and starting to pay off.”
White House deputy chief of staff Natalie Quillian said the website shows Biden’s agenda “is underway and working.”
“We want people to be able to see what’s happening in their communities,” Quillian said.
US adults have generally spoken ill of Biden about his economic leadership. Only 33% agree with the way the president has handled the economy, according to a May poll by the Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research. High inflation resulting from the pandemic has eroded confidence in Biden’s economic leadership, dwarfing the 3.7% unemployment rate and the more than 13 million jobs created during his presidency.
The White House reports that the Chattanooga area has announced more than $4 billion in private investment in solar, battery and new clean energy products over the past two years, which is expected to create more than 4,000 new jobs.
Investment: 1 billion dollars
Investment: 200 million dollars
Company: Piedmont Lithium
Investment: $582 million
Investment: 100 million dollars
– to Cartervs, Georgia
Company: Hanwha Qcells
Investment: $2.5 billion
Source: White House Investment Report
LARGE PUBLIC INVESTMENTS
Major projects in Chattanooga funded by the American Rescue Plan, the bipartisan Infrastructure Act, the CHIPS and Science Act, and the Inflation Reduction Act include:
— Wilcox Boulevard Bridge River to Ridge mobility project.
Federal funding: 25 million dollars
– Corridor of US Highway 127
Location: Dunlap, Tennessee
Federal funding: $14.6 million
– EPA stay cleaning
Location: Southside Chattanooga
Federal funding: $12.3 million
— Assistance from the Ministry of Transport for the airport
Location: Lovell Field in Chattanooga
Federal funding: $5 million for the terminal program and $3 million. Millions for an infrastructure grant
– Corps of Engineers flood control project at Mouse Creek
Location: Cleveland, Tennessee
Federal funding: $2.5 million
— East Brainerd Road bridge over the CSX rail line
Federal funding: $2.6 million
Source: White House Investment Report
The Associated Press contributed to this report.
Contact Dave Flessner at email@example.com or 423-757-6340.