Blowing in the Wind: Aggressive Steps Needed for Clean Energy Manufacturing

On Friday, the Wall Street Journal trumpeted the news that a Chinese firm will be the exclusive supplier to one of the largest wind-farm developments in the U.S. and that the developer of the project would be seeking U.S. taxpayer assistance. The 36,000-acre West Texas development announced that it would purchase 240 2.5-megawatt wind turbines from Shenyang Power Group, a five-month-old alliance with operations in China.

Question: Why aren’t American firms building this clean energy project?

President Obama has made it a priority to expand U.S. production of clean renewable energy, which has the potential to create millions of new, good -paying manufacturing jobs. Aggressive steps should be considered – including domestic sourcing requirements similar to Buy America – to ensure that these jobs are created here in the U.S. and not in countries like China that have a record of providing massive subsidies to its domestic manufacturers, including to steel and glass, in order to undercut U.S. producers.

AAM Executive Director Scott Paul has submitted a letter to President Obama emphasizing the lost opportunity for domestic U.S. manufacturing. In part, the letter notes:

I am deeply concerned that if not done properly, our efforts to rejuvenate our manufacturing base in this country could be unseated by subsidized imports from countries seeking to capitalize on new demand for clean energy products in the United States, such as wind turbines and solar panels.

I was shocked to learn of the massive 36,000-acre West Texas wind farm development that will rely solely on wind turbines manufactured in China. The developer will be seeking federal tax credits and support from the Stimulus package. According to an October 30, 2009, article in the Wall Street Journal, “the project should create 2,800 jobs – of which 15% would be in the U.S. The rest would flow to China, where Shenyang employs 800 people.”

Simply put, U.S. producers can and should be building the same turbines as the Chinese firm. The WSJ cites Elizabeth Salerno, a spokeswoman for the American Wind Energy Association, who says that in the first three quarters of 2009, there were 33% fewer announcements of U.S. turbine-factory expansions than in the comparable period of 2008.

In this case, it means another lost opportunity to revitalize U.S. manufacturing.

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