Evergreen Solar announced last week that it was closing its plant in Devens, Mass., laying off 800 workers, and moving production to China.
Evergreen’s factory had received more than $40 million in subsidies, which led many to see the plant closing as lesson in the futility of green energy and industrial policy. But what does Evergreen’s story really teach us about solar energy, public subsidies and the future of American manufacturing? [...]
America has had many high-tech breakthroughs over the last half-century, but those innovations rarely provided abundant employment for the less educated workers who need jobs most. The Devens closing reminds us that even when ideas are “made in America,” production is almost always cheaper in China.
Failed public investments, like the money spent in Devens, reflect the fact that public officials are rarely skilled venture capitalists and that governments pursue many objectives that lead them away from solid investments. It’s easy to see why any governor would be excited about a green-energy manufacturing plant in a less prosperous area of his or her state. But the same forces that made Devens political catnip meant that it was unlikely to be a long-term success.
My quick take: Governments should invest in infrastructure and people (education, health care, etc.), not in companies.
Also, green collar jobs, if they are to come from anywhere, will largely come from infrastructural investment: installing solar panels, renovating buildings, etc. Not from subsidizing corporations.