It took awhile, but someone finally picked up on one of the key points – maybe THE key point – underpinning most of my reporting on how a great deal of stimulus money for green energy is actually going overseas…
“There’s a lot of hand-wringing these days about the mediocre American record on clean energy. No federal climate legislation. No federal mandates for clean electricity. And when Americans look to incentive-laden Europe or to the huge clean-tech investments being made in China and Korea, we feel like an aged, belching Geo Metro being passed on both sides by sleek bullet trains,”
Brooks wrote, going on to compare the efforts of various states. He finished his piece by noting some of my earlier reporting that as much as 80 percent of the Section 1603 grant money went to foreign owned companies. (That’s an old figure from Nov. 2009 – I have some more recent analysis showing the figure improved, but most money still went to foreign companies.)
The point is, Brooks put my reporting in the context of discussing how weak our domestic green industries are – or totally nonexistent. And, when I started my reporting on the subject, I felt that was the main takeaway – the poor policy decisions of the 1980s and 1990s that neglected or even punished clean-tech industries (like green energy and mass-transit) brought us into the 21st century with a seriously weakened or non-existent industrial base. The Section 1603 program basically hands out money to anyone who lines up to take it and can meet minimum standards (basically – if you can establish you own a renewable energy generation system and if you spell your name right, you’re all set to get a check!), so while it’s interesting that European and Asian companies were primarily benefiting from this program, the big question is: why aren’t American companies lining up to get their share?
Because there aren’t many American companies at all.
Rather naively, I thought that’s what people would see as the “big picture” story behind my reporting. But, this being Washington, D.C., a town where everyone is loathe to admit any kind of weakness, I found nobody wanted to talk about how battered our industry was from past mistakes and that maybe before we promise hundreds of thousands of jobs, we should deal with the fact there isn’t an industry to create those jobs in. This unwillingness to look at the context of the story (or even bitterly deny it) didn’t have an effect on my reporting or the facts of the story, but I think it has done a disservice to the overall discussion and has obscured a huge hurdle to establishing long-term sustainable clean-tech industries (and the jobs that come with them) here in the United States.