Sunday, March 8, 2009

Wanted: American-Made Renewable Energy Businesses

On March 6, Austin’s city council approved a plan to build one of the world’s largest solar arrays. With a price tag of $250 million, the project could potentially provide the city with up to 30 megawatts (MW) of generating capacity (Austin currently has 2,900 MW of capacity). Covering 300 acres of land, the city hopes the 177,000 solar panels will catch enough light to help offset peak demand during the hottest days of the year.

Wait, one hundred seventy-seven THOUSAND solar panels?! Yeah, that’s right—that’s a lot of panels. Unfortunately, every single one of those panels will have a “Made in China” sticker attached to it.

With the highest unemployment rate since 1983 (8.1% in February), this is somewhat unsettling to me.

True, the solar facility itself should bring new jobs to the area, but why stop there? Why aren’t we using panels made in the good ol’ US of A?

The answer is pretty simple—it’s hard to buy American when America isn’t making what you need.

A recent New York Times article by Anne C. Mulkern addressed this exact issue. As Anne writes, “The goal of buying American is problematic in the renewable power business because so many companies are foreign.” This doesn’t just affect the solar industry either. Three of the top four largest producers of wind (in terms of installed capacity) are also foreign.

According to the article, many believe that the Obama Administration’s new stimulus package will help encourage US companies to jump into the renewable energy market, however it will take some time; many worry that it won’t be fast enough to help us recover from our economic woes. Only time will tell if the stimulus package will create more American manufacturing companies for the renewable energy sector.

Stimulus package or otherwise, this is a very real issue that needs to be addressed in the near-term.

1 comment:

Ideamotor said...

I'll play devil's advocate.

In order to use domestic panels, they would have had to split up the project to multiple manufacturers and rebid the project - it likely would have taken longer and cost more.

Also, Roger Duncan has reportedly stated that the manufacturer has agreed to share the federal investment tax credit from the 2005 Energy Bill with Austin Energy.

In order to reach 30% renewable by 2020, Austin Energy may need to make a couple good deals, and there will be future opportunities for domestic companies.

As far as geopolitics goes, aren't we counting on China to invest in the USA to pay for the stimulus? Not only that, but it might be wise to support solar panel manufacturers in China - a country with very high potential greenhouse gas output.