Sustainably Speaking

Stimulus money for ‘green’ projects needs to stay in the U.S.

Remember when President Barack Obama signed the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009, a $787 billion stimulus package, created to jump-start the distressed U.S. economy, just one month after he was sworn into office?

“We will modernize more than 75% of federal buildings and improve the energy efficiency of two million American homes, saving consumers and taxpayers billions on our energy bills,” said Obama. "In the process, we will put Americans to work in new jobs that pay well and can’t be outsourced — jobs building solar panels and wind turbines … and buildings; and developing the new energy technologies that will lead to even more jobs, more savings, and a cleaner, safer planet in the bargain."

I sure do remember this, which is why I was shocked to find out that a chunk of money from the stimulus package has gone overseas to foreign companies manufacturing wind turbines.

I learned of this earlier this year when “ABC World News” with Diane Sawyer featured the eye-opening report, “Green Stimulus Jobs Going to China,” by Jon Karl. According to Karl’s report, $2 billion in stimulus money has gone overseas so far.

Karl interviewed Russ Choma at the Investigative Reporting Workshop. Choma has written articles about the use of renewable energy funds contained in the 2009 stimulus package. Choma told Karl that eight out of 10 stimulus dollars for wind power has gone to foreign companies.

A consortium of American and Chinese companies recently announced a deal to build a $1.5 billion wind farm in Texas, according to the article “Renewable Energy Money Still Going Abroad” by Choma, and company officials said they planned to collect $450 million in stimulus grants for the project. This deal will create a small amount of jobs in the U.S. while it will create thousands of wind turbine manufacturing jobs in China.

U.S. Senator Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.) was interviewed by Karl, and told him that this is a story that people can’t believe, and this makes people lose faith in government.

According to the report, Congress may be to blame for this. The way the law is written, projects get money regardless of where equipment is manufactured. Senator Schumer wants this changed.

Karl also interviewed Matt Rogers, senior advisor of the Department of Energy, regarding stimulus money going to foreign manufactures. Karl asked him if there is any provision in the Recovery Act requiring products to be built in the U.S. Rogers told him that there are no such provisions in the Recovery Act.

When the Stimulus Act was signed into law, it seemed to me, that one of its main components was to create a green industry in the U.S., thus creating manufacturing jobs that are so badly need here. If stimulus funds are granted to projects using products made overseas, how will there ever be a green manufacturing industry in this country?

After seeing Karl’s report, I did some research to find out what companies are manufacturing turbines here in the U.S. I did come across some positive news. The U.S. Renewable Energy Group, A-Power Energy Generation Systems Ltd. and American Nevada Group are developing a new production and assembly plant in Nevada that will supply wind energy turbines to renewable energy projects throughout North and South America. This manufacturing facility is expected to employ approximately 1,000 Nevada workers.

I also came across the article “Granholm Touts Offshore Wind Power, Turbine Manufacturing” by Matt Roush. It is about the Michigan Wind Energy Conference held last month in Detroit. The conference focused on the growth of clean, renewable wind power in Michigan. Governor Jennifer Granholm was a keynote speaker at the event and spoke about the benefits of manufacturing wind turbines and tapping into offshore wind resources.

Roush reported that Granholm spoke about Eaton Rapids-based Astraeus Energy, which has created a way to manufacture a complete wind turbine hub in four hours vs. more than 20 hours for the current industry standard; several companies that have received federal stimulus grants to retool automotive production for renewable energy use; and Dow Chemical Co. and Oak Ridge National Laboratory — the two companies have created a way to make low-cost carbon fiber for wind turbine blades. All good news for the state of Michigan, and the U.S. too. However, there needs to be more companies like these in the U.S. to create a substantial green manufacturing industry.

It’s a shame that there is no provision in the Stimulus Act to make sure funds are used for projects using wind turbines made in the U.S. Until there is a provision, I suppose projects using wind turbines made elsewhere will continue to be funded. In spite of this, I’m going to remain hopeful that more wind turbine manufacturing companies (and companies manufacturing other alternative energy products) open shop in the U.S. in the near future. In the mean time, I guess it’s time for me to write a letter to my Congressman to tell him how disappointed I am to learn of overseas manufacturing companies receiving Recovery Act funds.