Wind stimulus dollars blowing overseas

Thursday, February 11, 2010

When tax dollars are funneled into private industry, how much control should the government have?

The question came up after financial firms, after having accepted billions of dollars in bailout money, awarded their top employees huge bonuses.

But at least they were American taxpayers themselves.

New questions are being raised about $2 billion in stimulus money aimed at expanding wind energy. A great idea, but in the way it was implemented, only a handful of new American jobs were created.

According to a report from the Investigative Reporting Workshop at American University, 80 percent of the stimulus money created about 6,000 jobs, but only a couple of hundred are in the United States.

In fact, the American Wind energy Association says that the United States experienced an overall drop in wind manufacturing jobs last year.

Most of the money is going overseas -- $443 million so far to Spanish-based company Iberdrola, $229 to EDP in Portugal, and$42 million to British-based company Terra Firma, which bought the Highland Wind Farm in western Pennsylvania from an American company just days before the stimulus awards were announced last year.

The problem is, the U.S. has only two major American manufacturers -- General Electric Energy and Clipper Wind. And, observers are worried that U.S. taxpayer stimulus dollars will go to create manufacturing jobs in China, which just passed Europe as the world's leading manufacturer of wind turbines. A Texas project, using turbines primarily made in China, is asking for $450 million in stimulus funds.

Yes, there is a "buy America" provision in the stimulus program, but it applies only to public works programs like roads and bridges, not private endeavors like most wind farms.

Private businesses, even when boosted by public funding, will find the most profitable way possible to conduct business. Unfortunately in many cases, low-cost foreign labor is an attractive way to find those profits.

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