U.S. Green Dreams Pricked By Tough International Realities

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bp solar frederick.jpgI don’t know the figure myself but someone should compute how much of every federal $ committed to non-agricultural, non-nuclear renewable energy sticks inside the U.S. vs. how much leaks out to Germany, China, India, and Scandinavia.
The Washington Post‘s Steve Mufson — who once served as the Post‘s Bureau Chief in Beijing — has written an important article on a local solar production facility closing.
Mufson opens on the announced closure of BP Solar’s Frederick, Maryland manufacuting facility:

BP will close its solar-panel manufacturing plant in Frederick, the final step in moving its solar business out of the United States to facilities in China, India and other countries.
Just 3 1/2 years ago, in an announcement widely hailed by Maryland officials and promoters of “green jobs,” BP unveiled a $70 million plan to double output at the facility and erected a building to house the production lines.
But on Friday the company said it would lay off 320 workers and keep only a hundred people involved in research, sales and project development. BP said laid-off employees would receive full pay and benefits for three months, followed by severance packages and job-placement assistance. The company, unable to sell or lease the building, will tear it down.

President Obama and his team talked a lot about creating “green jobs”, stimulated by federal partnerships with states, industry, and universities — but as Leo Hindery has compellingly stated at a recent Center for American Progress/Apollo Alliance forum on renewable energy, green jobs will remain an illusion until the White House adopts a serious national manufacuring strategy that the green sector is part of.
What is happening in the mean time is more hype than real. As New America Foundation Economic Growth Program Policy Associate Samuel Sherraden has written, America has a large and growing “green trade deficit” with other nations that has ballooned in the last five years.
BP Solar’s suspension of renewable sector manufacturing in the US is part of an ongoing current of key jobs moving abroad.
The announcement by BP Solar is particularly disheartening as the preceding solar firm in Frederick that BP purchased was one of the stars of the Advanced Technology Program (ATP) of the National Institute for Standards and Technology (NIST) under which it received manufacturing process, technology development and benchmarking support. ATP was killed by the Bush administration in 2007.
I visited this outfit in 1996 and was very impressed with the operation, which despite growing substantially since then is now going to be rolled up.
The closing of BP Solar prompted a debate of sorts between three very smart friends who are ideologically diverse, all committed to an upgrade of America’s core infrastructure and to more sensible energy policies.
I have anonymized the exchange but wanted to share their views on the news of BP Solar’s closing of the Frederick facility:
Policy Wonk 1 mailing to other Policy Wonks:

I guess free trade is more important than green jobs.
Read this: “BP closing Maryland Solar Manufacturing Plant

Policy Wonk 2:

That is another reason why we should focus on natural gas and nuclear. They can’t be off-shored.

Policy Wonk 3:

All the components of nuclear and natural gas plants, pipes, etc. can be offshored, including steel and concrete, with assembly and construction only in the U.S. Even concrete production is opposed by greens in the US because of the CO2 released from the limestone.

Policy Wonk 2:

Yes but that is true of only a small part of the natural gas and nuclear complex. And what do you mean by a natural gas plant????? You can’t offshore the exploration, drilling, and capping of natural gas facilities. And nearly all of the sophisticated drilling and exploration equipment is made in the USA.

Policy Wonk 1:

Right. But it might not be a bad policy to say that important stuff should be made in the US. Period. Before the Chinese steal our drilling technology and underprice on that, too.
The elites would be horrified, and ordinary Americans would cheer.

My view is closest to Leo Hindery’s in this case. The White House has not yet assembled a compelling national energy strategy that also creates a net increase in jobs along the lines that President Obama continually speaks about because there is no broad-based strategy yet to build high wage jobs, particularly manufacturing jobs, in the U.S.
– Steve Clemons

Comments

7 comments on “U.S. Green Dreams Pricked By Tough International Realities

  1. Cassandra says:

    The difficulty of keeping green jobs in the USA is a vivid demonstration of why the USA is rapidly developing the social structure of a third world country such as Mexico, where a handful of people own everything and everyone else is desperately poor and fighting for scraps.
    Our only growth industries are the military-industrial complex (kept alive by continuous, pre-emptive warfare) and our Gulag of all kinds of prisons, jails, and detention centers.

    Reply

  2. Mr.Murder says:

    When Jimmy Carter was President he scheduled publicity stops at two community colleges that used photovoltaic arrays to subsidize their power. One is here in town.
    Something called the Iran Hostage crisis put an end to the planned appearance.
    “ONCE UPON A TIME THE WORLD’S LARGEST PHOTOVOLTAIC ARRAY
    MISSISSIPPI COUNTY COMMUNITY COLLEGE SOLAR PROJECT”
    “The Department of Energy had an informal agreement to provide $200,000 a year for five years for maintenance and operations, but the Reagan administration’s funding cuts ended that.

    In 1981 the Saudis started building at a desalination plant in Jeddah a photovoltaic array that would replace this one as the world’s largest. According to then college president Smith, Saudi engineers had spent considerable time in Blytheville studying the MCCC system. The U.S. government helped fund the Saudi project, too.”
    <Ronnie Reagan scrapped solar energy here and helped the Saudis develop theirs.
    Interesting quote within the article:
    http://users.aristotle.net/~russjohn/engineering/mccc.html
    ‘Donald Elmer, the exhibitor from the Department of Energy put a timely geopolitical spin on the necessity of alternative energy. He said, “We’re saying parents can have their kids working around the greenhouse or cuttting wood for the stove rather than parachuting into the mideast to secure oil fields.”‘

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  3. David says:

    g’dammit.

    Reply

  4. Don Bacon says:

    Also Copenhagen was a bust, for the reasons The Pessimist stated.

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  5. The Pessimist says:

    This article hits me right in the gut.
    Three years ago I walked away from a $70,000 a-year job as a marine engineer with full benefits to pursue an AAS Degree in Alternative Energy. I was tired of sailing and wanted to get in on the leading edge of the “Green Economy.” I bet wrong. If I’d only known then what I know now about our national energy policies I would not have made this move. Luckily I am welcomed back by my previous employer.
    Alternatives will not be allowed to sit at the adult table until every last kilowatt of electrical energy has been extracted from every last drop of oil, every last therm of gas and every last lump of coal. The Secretary of Energy is a nuclear guy, which tells me all I need to know about Obama’s energy ambitions.
    “Sustainability” and “Green” are nothing more than buzzwords. Ask ten random people for definitions and you’ll hear ten different responses. The popular misconception is that there is growing “demand” for alternative energy. Wrong. There is growing “interest” in alternatives.
    General Electric is producing wind turbine components in China. In December 2009 Massachusetts-based Evergreen Solar announced it will be moving its solar panel production to China. Now BP Solar is abandoning Maryland for Mao’s manufacturing paradise.
    So much for a “Green Economy“ enriching US workers. The “Green Economy” belongs to Corporate America.
    Regards

    Reply

  6. John Robert BEHRMAN says:

    Look deeply — for Pete’s sake — at the high finance and international barter aspects of this “plant”.
    “Wind and Solar” are mostly multi-layered scams reminiscent of the dot-com boom. BP, GS, and a slew of intermediaries make a killing off the front-end of such deals, then walk away from them. The deals are structured around “intellectual property” — not real technology or markets. Now, China has that property, probably for pennies on the dollar.
    And, they know what to do with it.
    Look hard at this deal and you will find a ton of residual government liabilities, indemnities, and debt. You will also find half-baked engineering, other than financial engineering, of course.
    The fancy, pretty, but poorly maintained building is a give-away — typical of a scam passed off as a “public-private partnership”.
    Yeah, right. You will also find a claque of politicians and lawyers walking away with millions in their pockets. This is our paradigm of parasitism, not progress. It is undermining the legitimacy of the state as well as the competitiveness of our workers, industry, and commerce.

    Reply

  7. charlie says:

    This is a real shame. I drove by this plant a few weeks ago. It did
    not look in good shape — which I thought might have been
    damage from the winter storms.
    There is a big difference between “free trade” and “entire supply
    chains moving overseas”. This is the latter.
    It’s funny how the Chinese demand that if you want to sell
    something in China you should build it there.

    Reply

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