News Story

Subsidized Green Energy Company Struggles, Lays Off Workers — Rewards Top Executives

Analyst: 'It looks like they are trying to pad their top people’s wallets in case something really bad happens'

In the nine months since David Prystash was named Chief Financial Officer of A123 Systems — the battery manufacturer that received $390.1 million in federal and state subsidies — the company has laid off 125 employees and had a net loss of $172 million through the first three quarters of 2011.

A123 Systems also learned earlier this month that the company that was to be the main purchaser of its batteries — Fisker Automotive — had its federal funding cut off for missing milestones and had to lay off its own employees. A123 Systems had invested $23 million into Fisker.

Yet, this month A123’s Compensation Committee approved a $30,000 raise for Prystash just days after Fisker Automotive announced the U.S. Energy Department had cut off what was left of its $528.7 million loan it had previously received.

Prystash wasn’t the only executive to see a big raise this month. Robert Johnson, vice president of the energy solutions group, got a 20.7 percent pay increase going from $331,250 to $400,000, while Jason Forcier, vice president of the automotive solutions group, saw his pay increase from $331,250 to $350,000. Prystash’s raise was 8.5 percent, going from $350,000 to $380,000.

The raises were reported by the company in its filings with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission.

“It looks highly suspicious,” said Paul Chesser, associate fellow for the National Legal & Policy Center. “It looks like they are trying to pad their top people’s wallets in case something really bad happens.”

When A123 Systems announced it was opening its lithium-ion battery manufacturing plant in Livonia in September 2010, then Gov. Jennifer Granholm wrote about it on the Huffington Post calling it “a Recovery Act success story.”

But there have been troubles for A123 Systems in the 17 months since then despite a lot of state and federal aid to prop it up.

The state of Michigan gave it a $100 million MEGA tax credit that is contingent on the company creating 300 jobs by the end of 2016. A123 Systems also received another $41 million in tax breaks and subsidies from the state. The Department of Energy awarded A123 Systems a $249.1 million grant.

But the company has not been able to meet its own projections. For instance, on March 28, 2011 in an SEC filing, the company projected total revenue between $210 million to $225 million for 2011. Its latest report shows they had just $118 million of total revenue through the first three quarters of 2011 and reported a net loss of $172 million.

A123 Systems has handsomely rewarded its executives since 2010, according to SEC filings.

For example, A123 Systems CEO David Vieau made $375,000 in 2010 and saw that increase to $450,000 in 2011, a 20-percent increase.

A123 Systems Spokesman Dan Borgasano referred questions for comment to a Feb.  10 article in Crain’s Detroit Business where Forcier said A123 Systems has hired back more than 20 employees who were laid off and was looking to hire engineers.

On Feb. 6, Fisker Automotive had its federal loan blocked by the U.S. Energy Department because it hasn’t met milestones.

In 2010, A123 Systems entered an agreement to Fisker Automotive to provide lithium-ion batteries for Fisker’s Karma plug-in hybrid.

Fisker was to build at a former GM plant in Delaware, but that plant halted work at the plant and laid off 26 workers.

Michigan Capitol Confidential is the news source produced by the Mackinac Center for Public Policy. Michigan Capitol Confidential reports with a free-market news perspective.