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Wind industry can't escape fact of foreign domination

Posted: May 26, 2010 | Tags: American Wind Energy Association, AOL Politics Daily, wind energy

The American Wind Energy Association’s annual conference, Windpower2010 wraps up today in Dallas, Texas – a state best known for oil. But these days, wind is quickly becoming the favorite Texas energy, and this event was all about showing off just how homegrown and distinctly American wind power really is. Conference organizers even booked former president George W. Bush (for an estimated $100,000) to be the keynote speaker. Despite a ban on photos or audio and video recording, a few journalists snuck out some details of Bush’s speech – like his recollection of how he once directed the chairman of the public utilities commission to, “go get smart on wind.”

Of course, underneath the PR-flackery and folksy keynotes was the industry’s own Texas tall tale: it’s still an industry that relies on foreign expertise, financing and largely foreign manufacturing. It’s a story I reported in several investigative pieces about stimulus dollars for green energy going overseas, and it’s one that the big players in the industry hate to talk about.

But in an article I wrote that was published today, as the first round of a new partnership between the Investigative Reporting Workshop and AOL’s Politics Daily, we are talking about the role of foreign companies in an industry that is so often marketed as homegrown and purely American, and also how effective these companies have been in tapping Washington for your tax dollars.

In early February, we calculated that as much as 79 percent of an estimated $2.2 billion in cash grants ear-marked to promote good jobs in green energy had actually gone to foreign wind farm developers, many of whom turned around and purchased foreign-built turbines with the money. As of this morning, the overall grant program has swelled to $3.2 billion. See our list of all 588 grant recipients here.

To be fair, as the Workshop reported previously, there isn’t much manufacturing in the U.S. (by foreign or domestic companies), but part of the rationale stated in the stimulus package was that manufacturing could be created. To be clear, there are a lot of jobs to be created by building wind farms – or more specifically, manufacturing the turbines that are erected on new wind farms – and there are stimulus programs (on both the federal and local level) that target money specifically towards projects that have demonstrated they will create American jobs.

At  a conference on green jobs in Washington earlier this month, Rich Glick, chief lobbyist for Spanish energy conglomerate Iberdrola scoffed at the Workshop’s reporting of the issue, arguing that just because a company had a foreign parent didn’t mean the money wasn’t spent here. (Moments later, Glick said that when the grant program went into effect “a lot of turbines on ships that were going to other countries … they actually turned the ships around and sent them to the United States.”) Glick also insisted that the money his company received, “is being completely invested in the U.S. We’d be fine if Congress said we have to reinvest it in the U.S.” (The legislation notably does not require any reinvestment or attach any strings to how the money should be spent.)

But on April 20, Iberdrola filed lobbying disclosure forms reporting Glick had lobbied against legislation that would impose a “Buy American” provision on the grant program – a largely toothless provision that would, theoretically, require his company to purchase American-made turbines, but, realistically, contains many loopholes. What the provision would do – that companies receiving grants, like Glick’s, couldn’t get around – is require the Treasury Department to report to Congress how many American jobs each grant would create, and, if a loophole in the “Buy American” provision was used, explain to Congress why.

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