Friday, July 19, 2024

Dalton, Ga., was once known as the carpet capital of the country. However, economic diversification led to a shift from wall-to-wall carpeting to hardwood flooring. Now, at Qcells, a solar panel company, robots patrol acres of shop floor where delicate solar cells are packaged, laminated and boxed into sophisticated panels — 6,000 a day — in a highly automated production line.

The company built a massive factory in Georgia — one of the most crucial states in the 2024 presidential election — and has another in the works. Both plants will employ thousands of people, underwritten by President Biden’s signature clean energy initiative, the Inflation Reduction Act.

“Just coming in here, you feel like this is the future,” Wayne Lock, 32, a Qcells quality engineer, said as he walked the production line, which has bustled since Mr. Biden signed the law in August 2022. “We’re advancing and keeping up with the world.”

But rather than bragging, Qcells executives are raising an alarm. The Biden clean energy initiative is bringing plants like theirs on line at breakneck speed. Consequently, the rate of production has created the prospect of a glutted market that threatens to drive down the price of solar panels as the supply outpaces demand.

Mr. Biden’s political advantage in the clean energy economy could turn into a crippling liability, bordering on a nightmare: shutdowns and canceled construction plans rippling across the country, including in key 2024 states like Georgia, Arizona and Colorado.

“We should be very worried,” said Mike Carr, executive director of the Solar Energy Manufacturers for America Coalition, a trade association. “We are very worried.”

Even Biden administration officials described the circumstances when the clean energy law passed last year as “much rosier” than now.

The bankruptcy in 2011 of another solar venture, Solyndra, which cost federal taxpayers hundreds of millions, haunted the Obama administration the last time a Democratic president tried to bolster clean energy to address climate change. Republicans whipped it into a scandal, and even solar industry supporters said it was a black eye — for former President Barack Obama politically and for solar power economically.

Biden administration officials take pains to note that this time around, tax incentives in the Inflation Reduction Act are intended to attract private investors and that the incentives cost the government only when solar panels are sold and installed.

Mr. Biden has a lot of capital resting on the solar boom: jobs with political appeal, clean energy development that could attract climate-conscious young voters souring on the president over other issues and a general sense that the Biden White House is a transformative power, not a stolid caretaker government.

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