By Coral Davenport
In September 2009, then-Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. traveled to a defunct General Motors plant near his hometown, Wilmington, Del., to announce a $528.7 million government loan for Fisker Automotive to make hybrid and electric vehicles.
The funding for Fisker, a small luxury automaker, came out of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, a $787 billion economic stimulus plan secured by President Barack Obama to lift the nation out of the Great Recession, in part by creating “green jobs” with $90 billion for wind and solar energy, a “smart” power grid, weatherized homes and the electric vehicle industry.
Fisker went bankrupt in 2013 before the Wilmington factory produced a single car. Mr. Biden also personally announced a $535 million loan guarantee for Solyndra, a California solar panel company that then went bankrupt, leaving taxpayers on the hook. An advanced battery maker called A123 Systems, which Mr. Obama extolled as part of a vanguard of a new American electric car industry, received a $249 million stimulus grant, then filed for bankruptcy in 2012, the vanguard that wasn’t.
Now, 12 years later, President Biden is preparing the details of a new, vastly larger, economic stimulus plan that again would use government spending to unite the goals of fighting climate change and restoring the economy. While clean energy spending was just a fraction of the Obama stimulus, Mr. Biden wants to make it the centerpiece of his proposal for trillions of dollars, not billions, on government grants, loans, and tax incentives to spark renewable power, energy efficiency and electric car production.
Electric vehicles also present a challenge, even as companies like General Motors and Volkswagen promise to shift their fleets to electricity. With the current price of oil hovering around $65 per barrel, electric vehicle batteries would have to cost about $57 per kilowatt-hour of electricity to be cost-competitive — down from their current cost of about $156 per kilowatt-hour, according to an analysis by Michael Greenstone, an economist at the University of Chicago who served as the chief economist for Mr. Obama’s Council of Economic Advisers.
“Electric vehicles are still far out of the money,” said Mr. Greenstone. “But a stimulus that was targeted at reducing the cost of these batteries absolutely could help.”