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Critics blast Patrick after Evergreen Solar announces plans to shut Devens plant

Posted by Alan Wirzbicki  January 12, 2011 04:05 PM

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Evergreen Solar Inc. announced yesterday that it will shut its manufacturing plant in Devens, eliminating 800 jobs. The company has received $58 million in state aid, and the closure dealt an embarrassing setback to Governor Deval Patrick, prompting a barrage of criticism of his economic policies.

The plant, which produces solar panels, has been one of the centerpieces of Patrick's effort to lure green industries to the state. When it opened two years ago, the company promised to create 350 jobs there over seven years, but yesterday said it would relocate manufacturing to China instead.

Republicans pounced on the news, criticizing Patrick for placing a losing bet on the company, which had come under criticism for awarding its CEO a half-million dollar bonus even as it relied on state aid. At Red Mass Group, David Whelan writes:

There ultimately is no way to spin this failure on the part of the Patrick administration. They ultimately threw away $58 million of your money.

Democrats aren't much happier. "It was a public policy failure," wrote state Senator Jamie Eldridge, a Democrat from Acton whose district includes Devens. He continued:
We can't go back and change the past - but we can, as a state, commit ourselves to figuring out what went wrong, learn from our mistakes, and do better in the future. This is the time to change the way we approach economic development as a state.

At a bare minimum, we ought to ensure that every economic development deal our government makes includes a strong clawback provision. (Although there were some clawback provisions in the Evergreen Solar deal, they weren't strong enough - and as a result, it seems we'll be getting very little of our initial investment back.) If a company promises to create a certain number of jobs in exchange for a subsidy, and they fail, we should get our money back.

And commenters on are scathing in the reviews of the governor. Ted11 writes:
This is just the latest example of how the Commonwealth of MA is in no position to pick winners and losers in the private sector. How many more of these things must blow up in their faces before the politicians realize they should not get involved. At least they didn't cave in on Curt Schilling's request to back loans to his fledgling company.

Patrick's secretary for housing and economic development, Greg Bialecki, told the Globe's Todd Wallack that the administration was disappointed by Evergreen's move. But a spokesman for the governor said the administration was still committed to fostering green jobs. "Clean energy remains a great opportunity for Massachusetts," spokesman Robert Keough told Wallack.

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ABOUT THE ANGLE Online commentary and news analysis from the Boston Globe. The Angle is produced by Rob Anderson and Alan Wirzbicki. You can follow Rob on Twitter at @rcand.

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