U.S. Green Dreams Pricked By Tough International Realities


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


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