"Chinese" Wind Farm in Texas: Green Jobs FAIL?


photo: Chrishna via flickr

The buzz around the green blogosphere today is another record-setting Chinese wind farm, with 240 turbines producing 648 megawatts. But this one isn't in Inner Mongolia -- it's in Texas.

This $1.5 billion wind farm -- a US-China joint venture paid for in part by Chinese banks -- will be built not with turbines from usual suspects GE or Vestas, but with Chinese-made machines from a year-old company called A-Power.

Needless to say, most of the project's green jobs will be created in China. And don't shoot the messenger, but it's hoping to secure 30 percent, or $450 million, of its financing from, yes, U.S. stimulus funds.

Someone better turn on those spin machines right about now.Green Jobs in China
Cappy McGarr, a managing partner at private equity firm U.S. Renewable Energy Group, which is financing the project with China's Shenyang Power Group and Cielo Wind Power, said in a press release the project would "spur tremendous growth in the renewable energy sector and directly create hundreds of high-paying American jobs."

In fact, the project will create just over 300 American jobs, but most of them will be temporary construction jobs. (Thirty permanent positions will need to be filled once the wind farm is operating.) Back in China, 2,000 Chinese jobs would be created by the deal.

The project is an illustration of the kind of investments and incentives that Beijing has used to rapidly boost its renewable energy sector, and the relative sluggishness of similar initiatives in the U.S.

In that sense, it's stoked growing concerns about China's renewable energy development and Chinese companies' intentions to outsell American-made green tech in the United States. Consider China's Suntech, which has announced plans to create thousands of jobs to the U.S., but which also revealed that it's selling below cost in the U.S. too (it later claimed that it wasn't).

But coming the same week that the Associated Press suggested that the White House may have overstated the number of American jobs its $787 billion stimulus package has created, news of the wind project is also egg on the face of the green jobs-touting Obama administration.

More Expensive Too?
Another curious aspect is the price of the project. The attraction of China-made stuff is their low cost. But as Keith Johnson at Environmental Capital notes, the unit price, at $2.31 million per megawatt, is above the typical cost of $2 million, and at a time when turbine prices are falling. That might point to the capability of Chinese banks.

Banks which, it bears repeating, have helped finance, among other things, that stimulus package.

China's Green Tech Growth: a Wind-Lose Situation?
On one level, the wind farm is a symbol of China's promising green economy. China's efforts are to be commended for their domestic impact -- the country is on track to meet its main climate change target, which is a 20 per cent reduction in energy intensity by the end of next year, says a new report by World Resources Institute.

That's because China's got the world's largest set of high efficiency coal plants and it's likely to meet its target of generating 15 per cent of its electricity from renewable sources by 2020, when 150 gigawatts of wind power are set to be installed - over five times the current US level. What's more, one in 10 Chinese homes already has solar heaters, a number growing by 20 per cent each year.

But on the global market, if clean tech development is also a race to make the stuff that the world will use to produce low-carbon energy, China is also widely perceived as a serious threat to green tech companies the world over.

Of course, with the right incentives, a lively competition in the marketplace can ramp up production and slice prices of relatively new clean technology.

The thing is, it hasn't been a fair playing field. China is widely perceived to be a place where Western green technology goes to get stolen -- a serious challenge for officials in both countries who want to see more technology transfer.

And Beijing is infamous for its green tech great wall: it was only last week that US officials persuaded China to begin backing off a protectionist policy on renewable energy that mandated that 70 percent of solar and wind turbine machinery be domestic-made, and disqualified bids from foreign companies on questionable grounds.

The Texas project will generate as much energy as a large coal-fired plant. But at a time when US-China cooperation is key to build a low-carbon economy, it's also generating more American suspicions of Beijing's clean development policies -- and of the those of Washington too.

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Tags: Beijing | China | Green Jobs | Renewable Energy | Wind Power