Solar sunset: Public incentives must come with strings attached

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The collapse of a Findlay-based solar energy company is unfortunate for the 70 people it employed as of last week, but it's also a loss to the taxpayers, who offered it nearly $20 million in state and federal tax breaks and grants.

Flabeg Solar U.S. Corp., a subsidiary of a German glass finishing firm, operated for four years at the Clinton Commerce Park near Pittsburgh International Airport. Its business, the manufacture of large mirrors to generate solar power, was given a boost by assorted government incentives meant to spur the clean energy industry.

The company, whose attorney said it would "most probably" file for bankruptcy, never reached the 300 jobs it had forecast, peaking instead at 200 at one point.

That's too few workers and too few paychecks. Fortunately, the state Department of Community and Economic Development (which gave Flabeg $1 million) and the company are looking separately at whether Flabeg must pay some of the incentives back.

There's nothing wrong with using public incentives to lure promising businesses to a region. But whether the recipient is US Airways or Shell Oil Co. or Flabeg Solar, the public's interest must be protected by terms written into the deal that make the company deliver on its promises.

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