Four Democratic senators aim to halt stimulus wind project

By Dan Eggen
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, March 4, 2010

A group of Democratic senators called Wednesday for the government to halt a federal stimulus program aimed at building wind farms and other clean-energy projects, arguing that too much of the money spent so far has gone to create jobs overseas.

The Obama administration and wind-energy advocates strongly disputed the criticism by Sen. Charles E. Schumer (N.Y.) and three other Democrats, saying that most of the jobs under the Energy Department program have been created in the United States, despite the dominance of foreign manufacturers in the green-technology sector.

The dispute marks a rare public split among Democrats over the $862 billion stimulus package, which the Obama administration and party leaders have defended as crucial to saving jobs and easing the recession's impact. Republicans have spent the past year attacking the package as a wasteful boondoggle.

Joined by Sens. Robert P. Casey Jr. (Pa.), Sherrod Brown (Ohio) and Jon Tester (Mont.), Schumer said at a news conference that the Obama administration has ignored concerns about foreign involvement in the clean-energy program and should halt funding until Congress can pass legislation to deal with the problem.

Schumer and the other lawmakers focused particular criticism at Cielo Wind Power of Austin, which has said it may apply for up to $450 million in stimulus funding for a massive wind farm that would be powered by turbines built in China.

"It is a no-brainer that stimulus funds should only go to projects that create jobs in the United States rather than overseas," Schumer said. "These wind projects have a lot of merit, but the manufacturing should be happening here, not in China."

A spokesman for the Texas project called the senators' assumptions incorrect, saying that at least 70 percent of each turbine will be made in the United States with American steel. The Energy Department said the firm has not yet applied for stimulus funds.

The senators' efforts garnered praise from several union leaders. "Energy is critical to America's future, and we should ensure that domestic manufacturers help fuel the future development of this sector," said United Steelworkers President Leo W. Gerard.

But Obama administration officials and wind-energy industry representatives said that the complaints are misguided and based on faulty information, and they sharply disputed an American University study cited by the senators, which estimated that up to 80 percent of stimulus money spent on wind turbines so far had gone to foreign companies.

The American Wind Energy Association said that for the first $1 billion spent on the program, 53 percent of the value of wind turbines -- and 63 percent of other equipment on wind farms -- came from the United States.

The trade group also estimated that 50,000 jobs would be lost if the grants were halted. Energy Department spokeswoman Stephanie Mueller said a moratorium "would cause immediate layoffs of American workers" at U.S. manufacturing plants, including some in the home states of the complaining senators.

"Other countries are not pressing the pause button on clean-energy industries, and they will move quickly to capture America's share of the global market while we sit on the sidelines," Mueller said. "The longer we delay, the longer we remain dependent on foreign oil instead of America's home-grown clean-energy resources."

The Obama administration points to the example of Iberdrola, a Spanish firm that began construction on a stalled wind-farm project in Pontiac, Ill., because of stimulus grants. The turbines come from another Spanish firm, Gamesa, which is using an abandoned U.S. Steel plant in Pennsylvania to manufacture them. Administration officials said Iberdola has committed to investing an additional $6 billion in U.S. projects as a result.

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