The Obama Administration sold its $787 billion stimulus plan on the basis of improving the economy through investing in green energy and by doing so, increasing employment in the United States. But what is actually happening, particularly with wind and solar projects, is that the majority of the manufactured components are being built offshore in either Asia or Europe, resulting in foreign countries capturing a good deal of our stimulus funds and finding a lucrative haven for their products in the United States.
Green Stimulus Money Going Overseas
Since September 1, 84 percent of the $1.05 billion in clean energy grants has gone to foreign wind companies. Foreign countries benefiting from stimulus funds for wind technology are Spain (57%), Germany (12.6%), Japan (9.5%), and Portugal (5%).[i] Companies began applying for grants at the end of July and awards were announced by the two joint administrators of the program, the Energy and Treasury Departments, beginning on Sept. 1. In the first round of the grants, 77% went to foreign wind developers, followed by 84% in the second round. Of the 11 wind farms that received grants, 695 of the 982 installed turbines were manufactured by a foreign company.[ii]
Further, there are few restrictions on how the grants can be used. According to the Investigative Reporting Workshop at American University, over $800 million were provided to wind farms that were already producing electricity. As required by law, all 11 wind farms started operating after January 1, 2009, but before the grants were awarded.[iii]
Turbine Manufacturing Dominated by Foreign Competitors
The U.S. currently has the most installed wind capacity in the world, but it is not a leader in the manufacture of turbines. The Investigative Reporting Workshop reported that of the turbines currently under construction in the U.S., 67 percent are slated to be purchased from foreign-owned turbine manufacturers.[iv] According to U.S. customs data for 2008, and the U.S. Trade Commission, the U.S. imported $2.5 billion worth of wind turbines last year—up from $365 million in 2003.
In the future, wind turbines and/or their component parts may be coming from China where lower labor costs have allowed Chinese-made products to dominate many manufactured goods in the U.S. GE, a major U.S. wind turbine producer, already owns three facilities in China that produce turbine components. GE is also planning a factory in Vietnam that will employ 500 local workers and export 10,000 tons of components to GE Energy assembly plants around the world.[v]
China is already beginning to develop its own strong hold for wind power in the U.S. A joint venture between China’s Shenyang Power Group, the U.S. Renewable Energy Group, and Cielo Wind Power LP to develop a 600 megawatt wind farm on 36,000 acres in West Texas, costing $1.5 billion, was announced on October 29, 2009.[vi] A-Power Energy Generation Systems Ltd., a provider of distributed generation systems in China and a fast-growing manufacturer of wind turbines, will supply the turbines. A-Power Energy entered the wind power industry last year.[vii] Delivery of wind turbines for the West Texas wind farm is scheduled for March 2010.[viii]
Graphic courtesy Investigative Reporting Workshop
Solar Cells Manufactured Overseas
Not only are wind turbines mostly manufactured in countries overseas, but so are photovoltaic (PV) cells. Florida Power & Light (FPL) started operating its 25 megawatt photovoltaic solar plant in southwest Florida in conjunction with a visit to the plant by President Obama on October 27. [ix] The DeSoto plant in southwest Florida is the first of a total of 110 megawatts of solar capacity that FPL will install at 3 different sites by the end of 2010. Although Obama praised FPL’s work in the solar arena, he did not tell the American public that the components of the DeSoto plant are from foreign countries. While the PV cells were provided by a firm from California, they were made in the Phillipines. The steel PV frame holding the cells was produced in Canada, and the electrical parts and boxes were made in Germany, where solar power has been given heavy subsidies by the German Government. While German manufacturers have been producing PV technology for their country’s solar expansion, they are now concerned that China will take over their market due to costs that are 30% lower.[x]
The Obama Administration has told the American public that it will produce jobs and stimulate the U.S. economy through green energy technology. He has also touted that stimulus funds will be used for goods made in America. Yet, the the Investigative Reporting Workshop at American University finds that this is not the case. And, more examination of green energy development in the U.S., shows Asian and European countries well established here in providing the component parts for green energy technology.
The problem is not with international trade per se. In a genuinely free market, where politicians do not pick winners or losers, the most efficient firms would capture market share, be they American or foreign. The result would be the best products at the lowest prices for American consumers.
The real problems are a government “stimulus” plan and efforts to centrally plan a “green economy.” The government can only “stimulate” by spending money that it has first taxed or borrowed from the private sector. It would be bad enough for the government to destroy jobs in American fossil fuel industry while spending money on domestic producers of “green energy.” But it is particularly absurd for the U.S. government to cripple American industry while shoveling the lion’s share of the pork into the hands of foreign beneficiaries.
[i] “Overseas firms collecting most green energy money”, October 29, 2009, http://investigativereportingworkshop.org/investigations/wind-energy-funds-going-overseas/
[v] “Vietnam’s first turbine component plant underway”, May 13, 2009, http://www.vietnewsonline.vn/News/Business/Companies-Finance/6072/Vietnams-first-turbine-component-plant-underway.htm
[vii] “Lone Star, Meet Red Star: China’s $1.5 Billion Wind-Power Deal in Texas”, October 30, 2009, http://blogs.wsj.com/chinarealtime/2009/10/30/lone-star-meet-red-starchina%e2%80%99s-15-billiob-wind-power-deal-in-texas/
[x] “Solar-Power Incentives in Germany Draw Fire,” Vanessa Fuhrmans, Wall Street Journal, September 28, 2009, http://online.wsj.com/article/SB125383541153239329.html