The reports were spot on. The LG Chem battery plant in Holland, MI – which was intended to make batteries for the Chevrolet Volt plug-in hybrid, but has not yet started production – is not only furloughing its 200 employees, those breaks are "extending and expanding," according to reports on local TV news station WZZM 13, citing statements from the company. The rolling furloughs started April 30.
Just as alternative-energy vehicles have made a splash in the presidential election, the LG Chem plant story is playing in the Michigan Senate race between Democratin incumbent Debbie Stabenow and Republican challenger Pete Hoekstra. Stabenow's point of view is in line with Obama's, which is that plug-in vehicles are a good thing and that "we need to win the [global] race" to build them. Hoekstra, on the other hand, criticized the spending of taxpayer money on a plant that "hasn't produced a singe battery."
There's a word potentially missing there, since the plant hasn't made a battery yet. LG Chem's line is that since plug-in vehicle demand is lower than expected, the workers are not being asked to make the packs. Yet. But once demand increases, "the plant will be fully operational," WZZM writes. LG Chem isn't saying when that might happen.
LG Chem also points out that it isn't using federal money to pay for idle workers and will review any misspent money for potential refunds to the government. According to a company statement sent to the Grand Rapids Business Journal:
More to come, assuredly. There's a video report below.
Taxpayer money has not been wasted, because when the market demand justifies production, the facility will be utilized. More than 1,000 construction jobs were involved in building the facility, and 200 company jobs have been created, adding a solid boost to the local economy. LG Chem has the strongest motivation to operate the plant, because it has invested more than 50 percent, over $150 million, of the cost to construct the facility, so it will utilize the plant when the time is right. ... LG Chem feels a duty to take care of the people and to keep them on the team, so they can be ready for production. The company will not use (Department of Energy) grant money to pay for any idle time. It will review prior billings, and if any has been used, then that money will be refunded to the DOE.