Leaders hope Honda chooses Ohio for battery factory, but some worry HB6 scandal could be factor
Electric vehicles charging parking space. (Photo by Drew Angerer/Getty Images).
The following article was originally published on News5Cleveland.com and is published in the Ohio Capital Journal under a content-sharing agreement. Unlike other OCJ articles, it is not available for free republication by other news outlets as it is owned by WEWS in Cleveland.
Ohio could possibly get another billion-dollar tech factory after Honda and LG Energy Solution announced Monday that they were looking to build a new electric vehicle battery factory.
The popularity of electric vehicles continues to grow year after year, especially with the rising concern of climate change and its impact on our planet.
Honda and LGES revealed they will be joining forces to invest $4.4 billion to create a battery plant for electric vehicles in the United States.
With Ohio being at the center of Honda’s North American vehicle production for the past 40 years, state leaders and construction workers are feeling hopeful.
“It’s an Ohio company,” said Mike Knisley, the secretary and treasurer of the Ohio State Building and Construction Trades Council. “It has a long history with the union building trades.”
They are up for the challenge, despite some concerns about the labor shortage, Knisley added.
“Even after the Intel announcement, a lot of companies might think, well, we can’t go to Ohio anymore because their workforce is tapped out,” he said. “That’s to the contrary.”
The groundbreaking of the new Intel semiconductor manufacturing facility is in two weeks. The multi-billion dollar project in Ohio to revitalize the country’s supply has its groundbreaking on Sept. 9, with President Joe Biden giving remarks.
“Actually, these types of initiatives, it creates an inertia and it allows the owners to have a comfort level, especially when they partner with the building trades and union secretary contractors with decades long history of bringing these type of projects in,” Knisley said.
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EV sales hit 2 million cars for the first time in 2019 but rose to 2.5 million in 2020, according to Deloitte. By 2025, it’s estimated 11.2 million will be sold before hitting 31.1 million in 2030.
Automakers are looking to get in the game. GM already announced it is building an EV battery plant in Lordstown.
But Case Western Reserve University’s Randi Leppla is worried about Ohio’s less-than-perfect track record with energy.
“It’s really exciting for us from an economic level and I hope that they do locate here,” Leppla said. “But one of the big problems is these large companies are coming to Ohio with demands about how they are procuring energy.”
House Bill 6 makes Ohioans pay one billion in bailouts for coal companies and Senate Bill 52 allows counties to ban utility-scale renewable energy.
H.B. 6 is known as one of, if not the worst, public corruption scandal in Ohio’s history.
RELATED: Ohio House Bill 6 scandal settlement payments coming soon, but isn’t over yet
Ohio House Speaker Larry Householder and four of his associates were arrested on charges in relation to “what is likely the largest bribery, money laundering scheme ever perpetrated against the people of the state of Ohio,” one that allegedly involved at least $61 million passed through a 501c4 organization controlled by Householder and other entities for the purpose of passing H.B. 6 in 2019, a law that provided a $1.5 billion taxpayer bailout to FirstEnergy.
The investigation is currently ongoing.
“With automakers moving to manufacture more and more electric vehicles, we want Honda to expand its operation in Ohio,” Gov. Mike DeWine said in a press release Monday. “For almost 40 years, Ohio has been at the center of Honda’s North American vehicle production, and we are working with Honda and LG to ensure that they choose Ohio for this new electric battery plant.”
The Ohio connection was first reported by the Wall Street Journal, but both Honda and state leaders are being cagey on details.
“Regarding your question pertaining to the location of a joint venture plant, we will share more details at a later date,” a spokesperson for the company said.
When asked if Ohio lawmakers were just being hopeful that Ohio could be considered and if the company had a shortlist, the spokesperson did not respond to comment.
“If just some of those really bad elements were repealed, it would just be a lot easier,” said Nolan Rutschilling, Ohio Environmental Council managing director of energy policy.
It wouldn’t be a surprise if the company considers all other options due to the not-so-environmentally-friendly legislation, Rutschilling added.
DeWine’s team said they couldn’t comment on if they have already had meetings with the tech companies, but they said they will be fighting hard to make sure we get this facility.
When asked if previous energy bills are worrying them, DeWine’s team said no.
“He’s cautiously optimistic,” spokesperson Dan Tierney said. “Certainly this was not an issue with Intel. Intel, as you know, would probably be described by others as very forward-looking in terms of energy, and they’re confident they could build a plant that meets their clean energy and renewable energy and zero waste guidelines in Ohio.”
Tierney also brought up, unprompted, DeWine’s innocence in the H.B. 6 scandal.
“As you know, and you and I have talked about, the federal case on House Bill 6 is a RICO case, you know, people engaging in a pattern of corrupt activity, multiple crimes for one purpose, where the feds have described that purpose as enriching Larry Householder, so our office certainly was not involved in that,” he added. “We know that the Democrats are trying to make it about Mike DeWine, but no, it’s about Larry Householder.”
The governor’s office has never been questioned, subpoenaed or named as a person of interest, he continued.
“The idea that companies will not choose Ohio because of their political claims, when they’ve been out of power so long is just laughable,” he said.
Following up on that, News 5 asked about the newly-released text messages that linked the governor to the scandal.
RELATED: Texts, calendars, emails link DeWine to FirstEnergy’s bribery scandal
“If anything, those third-party text messages between people who are not the governor, have gone directly against the narrative that the Democrats have tried to portray,” the spokesperson said.
Despite protest by environmental groups and his former staffers, DeWine appointed Sam Randazzo to the head of the Public Utilities Commission of Ohio (PUCO). Just last summer, FirstEnergy admitted it bribed Randazzo with $4.3 million.
“When the Gov. Elect asked me about attributes, I listed integrity, work ethic, creativity, thick skin, circumspection in public statements,” FirstEnergy’s then-CEO texted Sam Randazzo about the open PUCO seat in December 2018, just before DeWine took office, according to News 5 Cleveland’s news partner Ohio Capital Journal.
Tierney denied this.
“He was not their preferred candidate,” Tierney said. “The text messages made that clear.”
It is unclear how the messages “made that clear.”
FirstEnergy executive Mike Dowling credits DeWine and Lt. Gov. Jon Husted with performing “battlefield triage” to save Randazzo’s appointment, OCJ reported.
“The text messages where people are trying to tie us to things where they’re saying, ‘oh, there was battlefield triage needed for Sam Randazzo’ — he was approved unanimously, in a process where multiple people are forwarded for the governor’s consideration,” Tierney said.
A review of records turned over shows DeWine and his staff repeatedly “influencing and shepherding” H.B. 6 into law, OCJ said.
“It’s just a vain attempt to try and persuade a political election and it’s been extremely ineffective thus far,” Tierney added.
The spokesperson’s main point is that, when looking over the text messages, they “counteract what the narrative has been to this point,” he said.
“It’s not actual public policy when it comes to interactions with things like Honda or Intel,” Tierney said. “What we do know in Ohio is that we have a reputation that a lot of our competitors don’t have.
“We have a reputation for cheap electricity and we have a reputation for reliable electricity distribution.”
Follow WEWS statehouse reporter Morgan Trau on Twitter and Facebook.
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