Lawmaker Wants To "Claw Back" State Aid

By Jess Bidgood

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Jan. 18, 2011

BOSTON — State officials are coming terms with the fact that they can only get back a fraction of the tens of millions of dollars Massachusetts invested in now-closing solar panel plant. But some lawmakers are pushing for legislation they say would make sure that can’t happen again.
 
Evergreen Solar received $58 million in state aid to open a factory at a former Massachusetts military base in Devens – but last week announced it would close that factory, laying off 800 workers.

A trial installation of Evergreen Solar's panels in Newburyport. 

The state’s Secretary of Economic Development Greg Bialecki told Emily Rooney officials were shocked at the pullout. 

"We knew there were some challenges, they had talked about moving part of their operations to China," Bialecki said. "We weren’t surprised that they were struggling in this difficult market, but their decision ultimately they couldn’t keep anything open here was a surprise and a disappointment to us.”

On Tuesday, Bialecki the state is only legally owed $3 million by the company – though it’s hoping to hold on to an additional $20 million that Evergreen doesn’t yet have.

Obviously it’s been a brutal time for everyone in the solar business, not just for Evergreen Solar but for every US solar panel manufacturer. Very difficult to compete with the Chinese in particular. And so we knew there were some challenges, they had talked about moving part of their operations to China. We weren’t surprised that they were struggling in this difficult market, but their decision ultimately they couldn’t keep anything open here was a surprise and a disappointment to us.”
 
State Senator James Eldridge is, like much of the state, pretty angry about the deal. He’s pushing for the state to get more authority in recovering public funds from companies that fail to deliver on economic commitments they make.
 
“The jobs were created, but what’s so frustrating is now they’ll go away,” Eldridge told WGBH’s Emily Rooney on Tuesday. “The investment will have created no new net jobs.”
 
So he thinks the state should be able to attach certain provisions to development aid.
 
“I question whether it’s the wisest economic development policy to provide over $60 million to a company to create (jobs) and then not have the authority to take that money back,” Eldridge said.
 
Eldridge’s legislation would give the state more authority to “claw back” economic aid – and require more transparency from the businesses. “I want to get the information on the number of jobs created by these companies and give the state greater authority to take back that taxpayer money if companies like Evergreen Solar break their promise,” Eldridge said.
 
Eldridge’s legislation might also affect tax breaks like the one given to the film industry, which a report released last week showed has decreased revenue without creating a significant number of long-term jobs.

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