Govt Funding Created Too Many in Battery Space

Posted: Feb 05, 2012 12:01 AM

Here’s a quick footnote to our commentary published last week about the bankruptcy announcement by Ener1, another of Obama’s failed green-energy “investments.” Ener1 manufactured lithium-ion batteries to be used in electric vehicles, EVs.  Today’s Wall Street Journal provides further reasons to question Obama’s judgment and his irresponsible stewardship of the taxpayer’s dollars. 

Ener1 blamed the anemic market for rechargeable battery cars and an overly competitive market place for the company’s financial woes.  That is a similar refrain to the one offered by Solyndra, the California solar energy company that went bust last September even after Obama had guaranteed $535 million in loans. 

But, flooding an uncertain, limited, nascent market with a plethora of manufacturers did not seem to bother the Obama Administration or cross anyone’s mind at the DOE.  “The battery glut was created in substantial part by the Obama Administration, which handed out money to no fewer than 48 different battery technology and electric vehicle projects in 2009,”  according to the WSJ.

Ener1 was awarded a $118 million grant by the DOE in 2009.  That’s a “grant” – as in “gift” – not a loan like Solyndra or Beacon Power, a Massachusetts green company that also went bankrupt after a $43 million DOE loan guarantee.   At least with a government loan there is an assumption, however weak, that the funds will eventually be paid back.  Not so with a grant. 

It’s far from clear why a taxpayer gift of $118 million seemed justified other than that the Obama Administration was passing out favors to just about anybody that could say “green energy” – better still if they had also contributed to the Obama campaign.  It certainly wasn’t based on prior performance.

The company was founded in 2002, but was never able to post a profitable year.  Even 2010, the year after the $118 million grant, Ener1 posted a $165 million loss.  That was also the year that Vice-President Biden visited the plant and said the company “was leading the way…sparking whole new industries that will ensure our competitiveness for decades to come.” 

Give Joe credit for being an eternal optimist, but he certainly isn’t very good at business.  Only Joe would claim that a company showing loses of hundreds of millions of dollars and less than a year away from bankruptcy was “leading the way” to anything but the poor house.