Will Democratic Senators Stunt US Wind Power Growth in the Name of Manufacturing Jobs?

wind farm sunset photo
photo: Nic.McPhee via flickr.

A group of Democratic senators, led by New York's Chuck Schumer, is seeking to prevent further stimulus money going to renewable energy projects that are not made with 100% made in the USA parts. The AP quotes Schumer as saying, "We can't jump-start our economy and pull ourselves out of this recession if we are putting Chinese workers ahead of American workers." 'Chinese' Wind Farm in Texas Raised Hackles
Renewable Energy World says the proposal is in reaction to a 600 MW wind farm in Texas, being developed by China's Shenyang Power Group and two US-based developers.

A letter sent by Schumer, Senator Sherrod Brown (D-OH), Robert Casey (D-PA), and Jon Tester (D-MT) to the Treasury Secretary requested that a moratorium be placed on further Recovery Act funding until legislation is drafted to close what the senators say is "not the intended use of Recovery Act funds."

In their letter the senators cite statistics showing that foreign-owned companies manufactured the majority of wind turbines purchased with Recovery Act funds.

wind turbine maintenance photo
photo: US Air Force/Lance Cheung via flickr.
AWEA & DoE Say Thousands of Installation Jobs Would Be At Risk
As you might imagine the American Wind Energy Association was none too pleased, issuing the following statement:

At a time when the construction unemployment rate is nearly 25% and the manufacturing unemployment rate is 13%, this proposal would cost 50,000 American workers their jobs. The truth is, by law, Recovery Act grants can only be used to finance projects that are being built in the United States. This proposal would torpedo one of the most successful job creation efforts of the Recovery Act, which has already preserved half of the 85,000 American jobs in the U.S. wind industry. Rather than adopt policies that will kill American jobs, Congress should enact policies that will create jobs by encouraging manufacturers to invest in U.S. plants.

The Department of Energy seems to share that sentiment. A DoE spokesman pointed out that the Recovery Act had attracted $10 billion in foreign investment and has helped the creation of new manufacturing plants.

Energy Secretary Chu added that all of the installation jobs for wind turbines are created in America and that the stimulus funding has helped but Americans back to work.

wind turbine parts photo
photo: Patrick Finnegan via flickr.
More Wind Power is a Good Thing, Even if Not Entirely 'Made in the USA'
I can see where Sen. Schumer is coming from here. The initial emotional response of 'I don't want my money going to some foreign company, when it could be helping domestic companies' isn't a bad one. But it's just not as simple as that.

Both AWEA and the DoE are correct in pointing out that wind power manufacturing is growing in the US, no doubt helped in part by the Recovery Act, and that the jobs installing those wind turbines are genuine domestic jobs. The fact that not every single major component of the projects was made domestically is perhaps unfortunate, and a sign of the place the US has in the world these days, but it shouldn't be the main focus here.

If you start questioning whether it is a good idea to have the scales balancing foreign investment and foreign-made goods against domestic ones so heavily weighted overseas you can't just stop with the borders of the US. You have to start bringing up more localized economies and the effect that transnational corporations have on the economy more broadly. You have to start questioning the very notion of free trade. I'm not sure Senator Schumer is willing to take it that far, even if that would be wise.

No doubt greater use of US-made wind turbine components would be a good thing--something we should certainly be working to--but if it's a choice of greater wind power only if it's all red, white and blue, or greater wind power regardless of country of origin, I choose the second. And don't mind public money going towards it.

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Tags: Congress | Renewable Energy | United States | Wind Power


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