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Workshop's wind stories kicking up political dust

Posted: Sept. 27, 2010 | Tags: economy, stimulus, west virginia, wind energy

The race for West Virginia's Third Congressional District is heating up, and my Blown Away stories have suddenly resurfaced in the latest round of back-and-forth between the campaigns.

Politico reported today that Republican nominee Spike Maynard has released a new political ad targeting the long-time incumbent, Democrat Rep. Nick Rahall on the issue of stimulus money for renewable energy creating jobs in China. The ad, which you can see below, claims that, "as part of the Obama-Pelosi team, Rahall voted for billions in tax breaks for foreign companies creating Chinese jobs. Rahall's vote helped foreign companies create jobs making windmills."

According to the fine print at the bottom of the ad, the information is sourced, at least partially, from a Washington Times article on Sept. 9 which cites my earlier articles on the Section 1603 grant program. The program reimburses developers of renewable energy projects up to 30 percent of their costs. In February, I reported that as much as 79 percent of the money had gone to foreign developers.

A total of 28 wind farms had received grant money at that point, and of the 1,807 turbines erected, foreign-owned manufacturers built 1,219.

This is where things get complicated.

Some of those foreign-owned turbine manufacturers have factories in the United States and some American-owned turbine manufacturers have factories overseas. We simply don't know where all of the parts were made. We found several specific examples of major wind farms where we know none of the parts were made in the United States.

But, for those following the Rahall-Maynard race, it should be noted there were no farms that we could find that used turbines entirely built in China, so we can't say for sure how much of this stimulus money went to create jobs in China. Some money definitely did, but it is safe to say more money went to creating jobs in the U.S. and Europe.

Unfortunately, the Democratic Congressional Committee has chosen to respond using a non-sequitur. Politico reporter Alex Isenstadt reports today that, "Democrats call the charge that stimulus funds have funded Chinese jobs bogus, and point to studies contradicting findings used in the GOP ads, including one from the American Wind Energy Association finding that '100 percent of Recovery Act money goes to wind projects built in the U.S.'"

That answers nothing. The issue is not where the wind farms getting stimulus money were built - they are all in the United States - but rather who collected the stimulus money and where those turbines the money paid for were built. It's a dodge.

Last spring, Politifact got involved and fact-checked a Facebook statement issued by Sarah Palin, which cited my reporting as evidence that 80 percent of the stimulus money for renewables had gone to Chinese companies (Isenstadt notes Palin's statement as a precursor to this latest round of political attacks.) Politifact concluded:

"There is a small amount of truth to Palin's underlying point: Because many parts of these turbines are being made overseas, some of the stimulus money is supporting jobs abroad. But that's not to say that no wind energy-related jobs have been created in the United States … It's incorrect to say that any stimulus money has gone to Chinese turbine manufacturers, let alone 80 percent of the $2 billion spent on renewable energy projects."

The issue has been fueled by reports that a large wind farm that could qualify for as much as $450 million in stimulus grants, is being developed in Texas and will use turbines built by a Chinese company. That wind farm has yet to materialize and there is some question about whether it will.

I spoke to Matt Rogers, the Department of Energy's top man on stimulus money, this afternoon and he told me, "We don't believe that's actually a project that's moving forward." He said claims the proposed farm would be built with Chinese turbines and claim stimulus money were "fictional." 

For those of you keeping score at home, I also updated the numbers. Here are some key figures to date:

  • More than 1,100 projects have been funded under the Section 1603 program. 
  • Only about 75 are wind farms, but they have received $4.4 billion worth of grants.
  • 54 percent of that  -- $2.38 billion -- has gone to foreign developers. A total of 4,232 turbines were erected on those 75 farms, and 2,760 were built by foreign manufacturers - that's 65.2 percent. Again, I can't say how many of the turbines built by American manufacturers were overseas, and how many of the turbines built by foreign manufacturers were built here.

 




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