By Hillary Chabot and Jessica Van Sack
Tuesday, January 18, 2011 –
A determined House Speaker Robert A. DeLeo is demanding answers from Gov. Deval Patrick and a top Republican is calling for an independent probe into how the state dropped nearly $60 million in a bad bet on a green energy firm that critics say took the taxpayer money and ran.
Evergreen Solar Inc. scored one of the biggest state investments into a private firm in history — only to announce last week it would ax 800 Bay State workers, shutter its state-subsidized factory in Devens and ship operations to China.
“I want to sit down and talk to the governor. … What exactly happened? … It wasn’t all that long ago (that Evergreen) knew exactly what type of fiscal position they were in, and where they were going,” DeLeo said. “For us to make an investment like that as a commonwealth is very disconcerting to me.”
In an interview with the Herald last week, Patrick showed little regret over the investment, saying, “I think we did what we could have and should have.”
Meanwhile, House Minority Leader Bradley Jones demanded an independent probe into how the firm won a windfall in state grants, loans and tax breaks — and he called for Patrick to review his disastrous wager “to make sure something like this doesn’t happen again.”
“There should be some investigation into what was presented (by Evergreen), what commitments were made and what the evaluation was that led to this type of commitment,” Jones said. “This was a lot of eggs in one basket.”
Heavily courted by Patrick and billed as a “symbol” of the state’s new green economy, Evergreen landed a deal in 2007 that included $58 million in state grants, tax credits, loans and free use of state land in exchange for creating hundreds of jobs. Evergreen now maintains that it owes the state a paltry $4 million refund. State officials said yesterday that the firm never claimed $7.5 million in tax credits.
DeLeo said he supports tax incentives to create jobs, but those deals should have strings attached.
“To make an investment like that, I always request that we have clawback provisions so that most of that money can be coming back after their failure to meet their commitments,” DeLeo said.
Also yesterday, red-faced state officials admitted they learned about the massive Devens layoffs not from Evergreen, but from state police who were called by company honchos to provide security at the factory as they announced the news to irate employees.
“Evergreen Solar did not even have the decency to call Mass Development first,” said state Sen. James Eldridge (D-Acton), whose district includes the Devens factory. “They called the state police to hire them for a detail as they were laying off employees.”
Evergreen spokesman Chris Lawson insisted the company contacted multiple agencies in advance of the public announcement.
“Evergreen Solar contacted Mass Development and other state agencies via personal calls and e-mails,” he said.
The firm blamed falling solar panel prices for its decision to move its Devens factory to China.
The Herald reported last week that Evergeen could actually make a profit off the Devens plant by renting it.