Three months before closing, federal government boasted 'Future So Bright, You Got To Wear Shades'
Last December, the federal government’s Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy touted the success of its solar energy subsidy programs in a website feature headlined, “EERE Success Story — The Future’s So Bright, You’ve got to Wear Shades.”
“Solar energy is now one of the fastest-growing industries in the United States and a major source of new jobs,” the article proclaimed, citing a solar cell maker called Suniva that had a plant in Michigan.
Yet a little more than three months later, the news from Suniva was about employee layoffs. Eventually, Suniva, which is based in Norcross, Georgia, closed the Michigan facility in March. Suniva had opened the plant in 2014 in Saginaw Township.
The story of Suniva’s failure in Michigan highlights an industry and company awash in subsidies bankrolled by local, state and federal taxpayers, but which still could not keep a Michigan plant open for more than three years.
According to state and federal documents, Suniva received three federal grants worth $8.8 million from 2014 to 2016. It also received a $5.7 million tax credit in 2010 to develop and produce solar cells and accompanying technologies.
The statewide news site MLive has also reported that Saginaw Township gave the company a tax incentive to locate there. Township officials claim Suniva will have to pay back some of the tax incentives because the plant wasn’t open long enough, according to MLive.
Suniva also was approved for a 5-year, $15 million Michigan Business Tax credit from the Michigan Economic Development Corporation. When the state of Michigan announced Suniva would open a plant in 2009, the company was supposed to create 500 jobs. MLive reported that when the plant was closed in March, Suniva reported just 59 layoffs to the state.
But federal officials didn’t just give handouts to Suniva to develop solar technology. Suniva’s customers were also getting federal money to buy its products.
In July 2015, a Suniva press release announced the first installation of the company’s solar cells in Michigan: The Washtenaw Food Hub in Ann Arbor purchased a 608-panel solar array. The Washtenaw Food Hub received a $115,829 federal grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Rural Energy for America Program to offset the cost of the array.
Keryn Schneider, spokeswoman for Suniva, didn’t return an email seeking comment. Ajeet Rohatgi, who founded Suniva as a professor at Georgia Tech, didn’t respond to an email seeking comment.