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This Arctic Circle Town Expected a Green Energy Boom. Then Came Bidenomics.

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Freyr, the electric battery company, built a modern factory in an industrial park near Mo i Rana, Norway.

Generous subsidies are helping the United States steal green industries from Europe, as countries race to secure the energy supplies of the future.

Freyr, the electric battery company, built a modern factory in an industrial park near Mo i Rana, Norway.Credit...

Jeanna Smialek and Ana Swanson

Photographs by Thomas Ekström

Jeanna Smialek reported from Mo i Rana, Norway, and Washington. Ana Swanson reported from Washington.

  • Feb. 13, 2024

In Mo i Rana, a small Norwegian industrial town on the cusp of the Arctic Circle, a cavernous gray factory sits empty and unfinished in the snowy twilight — a monument to unfulfilled economic hope.

The electric battery company Freyr was partway through constructing this hulking facility when the Biden administration’s sweeping climate bill passed in 2022. Perhaps the most significant climate legislation in history, the Inflation Reduction Act promised an estimated $369 billion in tax breaks and grants for clean energy technology over the next decade. Its incentives for battery production within the United States were so generous that they eventually helped prod Freyr to pause its Norway facility and focus on setting up shop in Georgia.

The startup is still raising funds to build the factory as it tries to prove the viability of its key technology, but it has already changed its business registration to the United States.

Its pivot was symbolic of a larger global tug of war as countries vie for the firms and technologies that will shape the future of energy. The world has shifted away from decades of emphasizing private competition and has plunged into a new era of competitive industrial policy — one in which nations are offering a mosaic of favorable regulations and public subsidies to try to attract green industries like electric vehicles and storage, solar and hydrogen.

Mo i Rana offers a stark example of the competition underway. The industrial town is trying to establish itself as the green energy capital of Norway, so Freyr’s decision to invest elsewhere came as a blow. Local authorities had originally hoped that the factory could attract thousands of employees and new residents to their town of about 20,000 — an enticing promise for a region struggling with an aging population. Instead, Freyr is employing only about 110 people locally at its testing plant focused on technological development.

“The Inflation Reduction Act changed everything,” said Ingvild Skogvold, the managing director of Ranaregionen Naeringsforening, a chamber of commerce group in Mo i Rana. She faulted the national government’s response.

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