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  • Writer's pictureKatherine Grant-Rivers

Massive New 12 Gigawatt Solar Power Deal Officially Kills The Anti-ESG Campaign

Oh the irony, it burns! Public officials in the US state of Georgia have joined a multi-state effort to protect fossil fuels against competition from renewable energy, but the force of the free market is just not with them. In the latest development, the solar manufacturer Qcells has  announced that its new factory — in Georgia — will churn out a whopping 12 gigawatts’ worth of solar modules on behalf of Microsoft, and that’s not the only decarbonization trick up the Peach State’s sleeve.

12 GW Solar Power Deal Burns Up The Intertubes

The Internet was practically humming with news about the solar power hookup between QCells and Microsoft. It’s a giant step up from an agreement announced between the companies last year, which only covered 2.5 gigawatts.

The new arrangement turbo-boosts the total up to 12 gigawatts, including engineering, procurement, and construction services. The two companies expect to bring 1.5 gigawatts’ worth of solar panels per year to upcoming solar power projects, for which Microsoft has already nailed down contracts through 2032.

“The solar modules will be supplied by Qcells’ highly anticipated fully-integrated solar supply chain factory in Cartersville, Georgia, which is a part of Qcells’ $2.5 billion investment announced last year,” QCells explained.

What Is This Solar Supply Chain Factory Of Which You Speak?

If Qcells rings a bell, it should. The company is a branch of the South Korean solar power leader Hanwha, and CleanTechnica has been following its many ventures in the US and elsewhere. The activity has ratched up since passage of the 2022 Inflation Reduction Act (see more Qcells coverage here).

The new Cartersville factory is just one of two new Qcells ventures in Georgia. The other one involves expanding the company’s existing solar manufacturing facility in Dalton, Georgia.

“The Qcells Dalton factory is the largest manufacturing plant of its kind in the Western Hemisphere and the first solar panel plant expansion since the passage of the Inflation Reduction Act (IRA),” Qcells noted in a press release on October 18, 2023.

“This addition marks the first phase of Qcells’ historic $2.5 billion investment announced in January 2023,” they added, describing it as “the largest investment in the history of American solar,” establishing Qcells as “the only company in the U.S. to establish a fully-integrated, silicon-based solar supply chain from raw material to finished panel.”

Well, that certainly puts Georgia on the solar power map, even without the addition of the new Cartersville plant. In fact, Qcells and its parent company Hanwha have been showering Georgia with new jobs for quite some time now, ever since the company first entered the state in 2018.

More Solar Power For Georgia

Georgia Governor Brian Kemp had an opportunity to enthuse over Qcells’s Georgia ventures in a press release dated March 23, 2023, which celebrated Qcells’s sister company, Hanwha Advanced Materials Georgia, Inc., for putting up $147 million to build a new facility in Georgia. The new factory will supply Qcells with protective encapsulant films for its solar cells, making Georgia the only state in the US where solar encapsulants are made.

The project involved a generous share of help from Georgia partners.

‘Project Manager Jacob Lee represented the Georgia Department of Economic Development’s (GDEcD) Global Commerce team on this competitive project in partnership with the Bartow-Cartersville Joint Development Authority, Cartersville-Bartow County Department of Economic Development, Georgia Electric Membership Corporation (Georgia EMC), and Georgia Quick Start,” Kemp’s office explained.

“As a Top Ten state for solar energy production, solar photovoltaic is the fastest-growing source of energy in Georgia, which the Solar Energy Industries Association ranked seventh by cumulative solar capacity in 2022,” Kemp’s office also noted. “Georgia’s energy solutions providers are helping to accelerate the development of renewable energy products by lowering risks, reducing costs, providing access to innovative industry research, and investing in a superior infrastructure network.”

Oh The Irony, It Burns

If you caught that thing about “competitive project,” that refers to land and other taxpayer resources that Georgia has invested to attract Qcells to itself, along with other fossil fuel-killing ventures.

“During Gov. Kemp’s tenure in office, Georgia has pitched itself as a major hub for clean energy and electric vehicle manufacturing projects,” the Atlanta Journal-Constitutionobserved last March, when they covered the new solar cell encapsulant factory.

‘With generous incentive packages, the state has secured billions in investments from companies like Rivian, Hyundai Motor Group and SK Battery America — along with a constellation of suppliers — to build new plants and bring tens of thousands of jobs in Georgia,” AJC added.

As the saying goes, money comes to money. Investing public resources to grow private ventures is a commonplace practice that can go horribly wrong, but Georgia has been striking green gold in the clean tech field.

That’s where the irony comes in. Last spring Governor Kemp officially put Georgia’s seal of approval on a new anti-ESG campaign spearheaded by Florida Governor Ron DeSantis, aimed at stemming the flow of investor dollars into solar power projects and other activities that compete with fossil energy.

ESG is short for the environmental, social, and governance goals that have become commonplace in the financial industry and elsewhere in the corporate world. DeSantis and his allies have a somewhat different perspective.

“The proliferation of ESG throughout America is a direct threat to the American economy, individual economic freedom, and our way of life, putting investment decisions in the hands of the woke mob to bypass the ballot box and inject political ideology into investment decisions, corporate governance, and the everyday economy,” begins an open letter signed by Kemp, DeSantis, and 17 other Republican governors.

“We as freedom loving states can work together and leverage our state pension funds to force change in how major asset managers invest the money of hardworking Americans, ensuring corporations are focused on maximizing shareholder value, rather than the proliferation of woke ideology,” the letter adds.

The letter is dated March 16, 2023. Go ahead and read it to get the full effect, then take a look at what Kemp said just one week later, on March 23 (here’s that link again):

“Georgia is leading the nation in attracting next generation jobs. Since we first welcomed Qcells to our state in 2018, we’ve announced more than 4,000 related jobs for hardworking Georgians. We’re proud that Hanwha Advanced Materials is adding to that growing number as it becomes a valued member of the Bartow County community.”

Georgia is not the only Republican-led state to pull the rug out from under the anti-ESG campaign, but it sure sticks out like a sore thumb. In another indication that the anti-ESG campaign is running out of steam, last fall the state’s leading utility, Georgia Power, announced that it is expanding its plans for solar power and energy storage projects, as part of a strategy to saftisfy the “record scale and velocity” of demand for electricity by new businesses coming into the state.

Credits: Tina Casey

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