'Buy American' rule sought for U.S. energy projects

WASHINGTON — Chinese turbines powered by west Texas winds are sparking a debate over whether "Buy American" rules should be imposed on renewable-energy investments backed by the federal government.

A-Power Energy Generation Systems, based in Shenyang, China, will supply turbines to a joint venture planning to build a $1.5 billion wind farm in west Texas — an exact location was not specified. The group, which includes two U.S. partners, says it may seek financial aid from the Obama administration because the project will create at least 1,000 American jobs.

Lawmakers led by Sen. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., say such assistance amounts to subsidizing green jobs outside the country. They want to slap made-in-America requirements on renewable-energy initiatives aided by the U.S., like those already faced by highway and water-treatment projects helped by President Obama's $787 billion economic stimulus plan.

"Congress is feeling pressure to make sure they won't be held accountable for green jobs going overseas," said Kevin Book, a managing director for Clearview Energy Partners, a Washington-based policy research firm.

"Buy American" restrictions may be added to climate legislation that will be introduced in the Senate as early as next week, Book said.

Producers of renewable-energy equipment, led by General Electric, the biggest U.S. maker of wind turbines, say such restrictions would hurt their ability to compete in a global clean-energy market that relies on parts from many countries. "Buy American" provisions may cause other nations to retaliate by curbing their use of U.S. products, shrinking domestic job creation tied to exports, GE says.

The wind industry will create 20,000 U.S. jobs in the next decade and would generate more if the U.S. adopted clear policies and incentives for clean energy, such as requiring the use of power generated from renewable sources, said Steve Bolze, head of GE's power and water unit.

"What the U.S. needs, which Europe, China and other countries have, is stable, long-term policy," Bolze said.

Asia makes more than half the world's wind and solar energy equipment and is widening its lead. China invested $34.5 billion in low-carbon energy technologies last year, according to Bloomberg New Energy Finance. The U.S. spent $18.6 billion.