Wind energy born in U.S.A, despite ‘outsourcing’ flap

The wind power industry somehow got pulled into a campaign tussle over “outsourcing” this week, even though we have created a flood of U.S. jobs, private investment, and factories since tax relief helped restore financing for wind farm projects at the depth of the recession.

The campaign claim: The government “has been outsourcing a good deal of American jobs by putting money into energy companies that end up making their products outside the U.S.,” as candidate Mitt Romney said in Colorado on Tuesday.

We have good news for Gov. Romney, and everyone looking for policies that actually work: Because of recession-era tax credits, tens of thousands of U.S.A. wind energy jobs were saved, up to $20 billion a year in private investment was triggered, and a new domestic manufacturing sector now makes two-thirds of our wind turbines products right here in America.

As CNN’s Election Center reports, the programs painted as outsourcing “have contributed to a boom in wind power and solar energy projects in particular, according to industry groups and independent analysts. That led to the creation of between 52,000 and 75,000 jobs in the sector between 2009 and 2011, according to an April estimate from the Lawrence-Berkeley National Laboratory in California.”

Part of the issue is how the claim defines “outsourcing.”

As Media Matters found, the definition used is “so flexible, in fact, that it encompasses its opposite: foreign-owned firms coming to the U.S. to employ American workers.” When $51 million in tax relief went to U.S. subsidiaries of the Danish company Vestas, for example, it supported wind turbines manufacturing plants in Colorado. Now Vestas is contemplating 1,600 layoffs at its U.S. plants because future tax policy is uncertain.

The Washington Post’s Fact Checker column awarded 3 out of 4 Pinocchios to this claim that energy jobs were outsourced (adding, “it is probably more like 3 1/2, but we don’t give 1/2 Pinocchios.”) The Post even quotes sometime wind farm skeptic and freelance journalist Russ Choma as saying:

“I don’t think we saw anything that indicated the Obama administration pushed jobs overseas. What we found is that a large portion of the money from that program was given to foreign-owned companies to build wind farms here in the United States.

"We found those projects did create jobs here in the United States in construction and operation of those wind farms, but in many instances, the farms used turbines that may have been manufactured overseas.

"In many cases, manufacturers told us that domestically manufactured turbines were not available. When we last reported on the issue, we found that more and more domestic companies were getting involved, but I can’t say what the situation is today."

Good news for Mr. Choma, too: All that demand for more U.S. wind power has pushed domestic content in the U.S. wind industry from 25% in 2005 to well over 60%. This heavy equipment is increasingly made right near where it’s used, to save on transportation costs.

All that made-in-the-U.S.A. content helped keep wind energy a bright spot through the recession – and it means tax relief for renewable energy has been a very successful policy. Both Republicans and Democrats now support continuing the Production Tax Credit.

If politicians in both parties can put aside partisanship for long enough, we can keep taxes stable for this still-new industry, and support 100,000 American jobs within four years. Let’s let wind finish the job.

By Peter L. Kelley, AWEA VP-Public Affairs,