By Tim Echols
Georgia leaders from both parties recognize that the supply chain for electric vehicles needs to go through our state. However, one ruling, by a little-known federal agency, has put the country’s green-energy goals and nearly 6,000 Georgia jobs at risk. The good news is that President Biden, who visits our state on Friday, has the chance to undo it. But he has to act fast.
Last month, the US International Trade Commission (ITC) quietly issued a ruling in a trade dispute between SK Innovation (SKI), a South Korean battery manufacturer, and one of its Korean competitors, LG Energy Solution (LGES). The effect of the decision, though, would be anything but discreet. It would force the closure of SKI’s enormous, brand-new factory in Commerce, Georgia, the largest manufacturing investment ever made in the state. And believe me, when you drive north on Interstate 85 and see the facility, it is mammoth.
The effects of this decision are not limited to Georgia. The ruling will set the country back years in its clean energy goals, worsening an electric vehicle battery shortage that threatens our ability to move the transportation sector away from fossil fuels and toward clean, renewable energy supplies.
But hope is not lost. The law gives the president 60 days to disapprove of an ITC decision on the grounds that it does not serve the public interest. President Biden can effectively veto this misguided decision by April 9, and make good on his commitments to decarbonize transportation and add to high-paying clean energy jobs right here at home.
Georgia has the potential to become a major hub for clean energy technology, and in the wake of the pandemic, these jobs are needed more than ever. SKI’s 2.4 million square foot plant already employs 220 workers, and will employ nearly 2,600 if allowed to reach full capacity. SKI plans to invest even more to expand operations in Commerce — a total of nearly $5 billion by 2025 — creating nearly 6,000 high-paying, full-time jobs. These investments would support an entire ecosystem of new business activity in the state. The cascading effects would include improved infrastructure, which will lower costs for existing local businesses and encourage new business to sprout up or relocate here. Higher-education grants provided by SKI will help prepare hundreds or even thousands of future high-tech workers with the knowledge and training they need to work in the burgeoning green-energy field.
This investment is also crucial for Biden’s environmental agenda. The transportation sector is the largest contributor to greenhouse gas emissions in the U.S. But batteries for electric vehicles are in short supply worldwide, and the vast majority of batteries are manufactured in China. SKI’s Georgia factory would supply enough batteries to power an additional 330,000 electric vehicles every year.
Most of the batteries currently manufactured in the U.S. are considered “captive” — that is, they are committed to specific automakers and not for sale on the open market. Automakers that would like to develop or expand their electric vehicle fleets must contend with an anemic domestic market that produces few spares to sell to new market entrants. SKI’s factories would inject much-needed supply into the domestic battery market, and produce nearly half of our nation’s non-captive battery supply. The end result — cheaper electric cars.
If the ITC’s decision is allowed to stand, the factory will close before it ever fully opens its doors despite the Herculean efforts of our governor and economic development team. The vast economic and environmental benefits that SKI’s factories would provide are more than enough justification for President Biden to disapprove of the ITC’s ruling.
This is not a close call: President Biden must act, and he must act soon. If not, the massive plant will be a monument to a failed effort to make Georgia the center of the electric vehicle supply chain. And that is something none of us want.
Tim Echols is Vice-Chair of the Georgia Public Service Commission, creator of the Clean Energy Roadshow, and has owned five electric vehicles.