Progress on Texas Wind Energy Jobs
November 20, 2009 - 5:17pm ET
The dispute over whether or not a Texas wind farm receiving federal subsidies would source its components from a Chinese manufacturer has come to a more agreeable solution, with the partnering companies agreeing to open a 1,000 person turbine factory in the US and offering as an explanation their intent all along to source 86 percent of the installation's components by weight from within the US.
The new turbine factory won't provide the parts for this particular wind farm, but it seems like a better solution than either cancelling a wind power array or going on as if nothing had happened. Considering how unresponsive corporations can be to public protests over their business practices, I'm taking this as a win and going home.
Thing is, a wind turbine is a big, complicated gearbox with nacelle blades sitting on top of an enormous pole secured firmly to the ground by a big block of concrete or similar. Saying that you're going to get 86 percent of your components by weight in the US can easily mean, and does in this case, getting mostly the heavy and simple things here. So as much of an improvement as this outcome is, it's important to keep an eye on what American workers are getting pigeonholed into making.
Beyond even windmills, the important thing to know about the jobs leaving for China is that they aren't always jobs that can be replaced by educating or training our workforce for even better jobs. These are the better jobs. It's objectively a more complicated task to fabricate a gearbox or nacelle blade than to build a pole or mix concrete.
Now if Texas were a country, it would be sixth in the world for installed wind capacity (pdf) and has plans to add more. So chances are that this new factory will eventually be selling its products to new Texas wind installations, so not getting it ready for this time, not terrible. It isn't like US wind manufacturers are laying people off, and wind power is behind only natural gas in its share of new installed capacity in the US.
Yet going forward it's going to be essential to continue looking out for the health of this industry and to fight at every step to ensure that wind manufacturing in the US grows to meet domestic demand and stays abreast of other nations' industries in terms of technological sophistication.
If the principle can be established for this industry, that supporting our self-reliance and domestic employment are worthy goals, it can be established for other industries.
Wouldn't it be great if globalization ended up meaning that every country got to have a strong middle class, rather than that no one did? The Chinese should definitely have good jobs, but if that's allowed to be a zero-sum equation where Americans have to lose them, everyone will suffer for it. Even China. They are, after all, invested in our success up to their eyebrows.
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Views expressed on this page are those of the authors and not necessarily those of Campaign for America's Future or Institute for America's Future