What we didn't say about China and wind energy

Posted: Oct. 28, 2010 | Tags: American Wind Energy Association, Investigative Reporting Workshop, Russ Choma, stimulus, wind energy

I guess you could say it's a small sign that the Investigative Reporting Workshop has arrived: Our stories about wind energy and the stimulus have become grist for the mill in scores of political campaigns around the nation in recent weeks.

These ads are mostly coming from Republican candidates for the House and the central charge in many of them is that stimulus money for wind energy has been going to China. Just to be clear, as Politifact and others have found, we never said that.

Russ Choma's carefully reported stories document that more than half the $4.4 billion spent so far from the stimulus on grants for wind energy went to wind farm developers based overseas, mostly in Europe. One small farm that received $2.5 million is owned by a company based in China, according to the federal documents Choma examined.

The Republican House candidates aren't the only ones who've misunderstood our reporting on this subject.

The American Wind Energy Association  repeatedly has  tried to discredit Choma's work, claiming it is inaccurate, although interestingly the group has never asked the Workshop directly for a correction. Instead, the organization has attempted -- unsuccessfully -- to get our publishing partners, including ABC News and msnbc.com to repudiate our stories.

The association's main gripe is that Choma's reporting calls into question its contention that the stimulus program that gives grants to wind farm developers has literally saved the American wind energy production sector. But even there, it can't get its story straight.

This week the AWEA website says, "tax credits for wind power saved 40,000 jobs."

Last week a blog post criticizing our latest story, which showed that a large fraction of the wind grants went to projects that were substantially completed before the stimulus passed, said, "The 1603 program worked as it was intended to, and was so successful that all 85,000 American jobs in wind energy were preserved through the depth of the recession."

This really isn't about  a dispute between the Workshop and the wind energy association. It's about our willingness to examine, and sometimes challenge, assertions made by powerful interests, public and private.

Sadly, too few news organizations take that approach in this era of journalistic timidity. The Workshop was created to be one of those special places.




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