Message To Energy Department: U.S. Greenbacks For U.S. Green Jobs

Isaiah J. Poole

News of the potential use of U.S. stimulus funds for a wind power project in Texas that will produce 2,000 Chinese manufacturing jobs—but a scant number of American jobs—has generated justifiable outrage, including a letter from Sen. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., to Energy Secretary Steven Chu urging him to "deny Recovery Act funding to this project" unless the majority of the manufacturing of the wind turbines is done in the United States.

It’s therefore not surprising that today the Chinese firm that is a primary investor in the project, A-Power Energy Generation Systems, is doing some PR tap-dancing to quell the fury.

But PR tap-dancing from A-Power, and especially from the Department of Energy, which opened the door to the potential of this happening, is not enough. Energy Secretary Steven Chu needs to heed a simple demand: American tax dollars for America’s economic recovery must support American jobs. Period.

That’s the thrust of the grassroots push the Campaign for America’s Future is launching today, which aims to flood Chu’s office with this message:

The news that a Texas wind farm is seeking stimulus money to create only 30 jobs here but 2000 jobs in China is disturbing, especially since unemployment in America has surpassed 10%. 

China has understandably taken steps to stimulate its economy with its funds and move towards clean energy. We should be taking similar steps at home, not using our tax dollars to offshore jobs that could be created here. 

I support Sen. Chuck Schumer’s call for you to reject any request for stimulus money unless the high‐value components, including the wind turbines, are manufactured in the United States.

This battle goes to the heart of the economic strategy that this nation will pursue to work its way out of recession and lower unemployment, which today was announced at 10.2 percent.

One reason we are having to fight this battle to begin with is the flawed conservative ideology pursured by the Bush administration and its predecessors. A must-read investigation published lat month by Russ Choma at the American University School of Communications pointed out that while European governments were laying the groundwork for a green manufacturing economy, we "dithered."

The reliance on foreign companies for development of wind energy appears to be at least partially tied to the U.S. government’s resistance to subsidize a home-grown wind energy industry until now. With so few U.S. companies in the business, the door was open for foreign companies to walk away with the bulk of the grants. European companies, in particular, are well positioned to collect stimulus benefits for clean energy.

“Europe was light years ahead of us, in terms of developing these alternative resources,” said Gregory Jenner, a tax attorney and former acting and deputy assistant secretary of the treasury for tax policy, who co-authored a guide for energy companies hoping to collect stimulus money. “The fact that a lot of the European companies are coming over to the U.S., they just see this as an untapped market. Now that the incentives are starting to work out … it’s going to be just like a gold rush for them.”

While the U.S. has dithered with temporary tax incentives for producers, European governments have awarded permanent tax breaks and large subsidies to wind energy companies and poured vast sums into research and technology.

As a consequence, the article says, "European turbine-manufacturers have dominated the world market and continue to do so in the U.S. Indian-manufactured turbines are swiftly moving into the U.S. market as well, complementing Japanese manufacturers who have long been here."

As for China, The Washington Post reported last month that "the government has closed down old cement and coal plants [and] subsidized row upon row of new wind turbines," seeking to generate 120 gigawatts of power from wind by 2020, four times what the United States generates from wind today. And China’s government, unlike the United States, sets demands for domestic production.

Earlier this year, a report by the Renewable Energy Policy Project, a think tank that has worked with labor and environmental groups, warned the Obama administration and Congress that it was important that the country has a deliberate policy of focusing government green-energy resources on creating American jobs.

For every megawatt of new wind power capacity — enough potential clean electricity to power up to 300 homes — REPP estimates 4.85 Full Time Equivalent (FTE) jobs are created to manufacture, install and then operate and maintain the wind farm. About 70-75 percent of the total labor required for a typical wind turbine or solar panel is in manufacturing the various component parts that could be supplied by existing U.S. businesses. These are the potential “green jobs” that are key to revitalizing the U.S. and global economy. Without new policies promoting domestic manufacturing, an unnecessarily large portion of these jobs will remain overseas.

We are now seeing that prophecy about to come true. It is time for the Obama administration and Congress to work together on the policies and incentives that will foster the growth of green-energy manufacturing, not just green-energy consumption. It makes no sense to substitute dependence on Middle Eastern oil with dependence on Chinese or European wind and solar technology—not when we have the expertise, the workers and the facilities to build renewable energy products, and especially when taxpayers rightfully demand that every stimulus dollar possible be used to get U.S. workers back into solid jobs.

Let’s send Chu that message today.

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