More Clean Energy Jobs Going Overseas

by Dustin Ensinger

The incandescent light bulb was born in American, and according to The Washington Post, it appears as if it will die in America as well, taking plenty of well-paying manufacturing jobs with it.

This month, General Electric is permanently shuttering its last major factory that produces incandescent light bulbs. The closure will cost 200 employees their jobs.

In all likelihood, those jobs will be transferred to China, where the much more energy efficient bulbs known as compact fluorescents, or CFLs, can be produced at a much lower cost.

Despite the fact that CFL’s were invented in America in the 1970’s, virtually none are made in American. Because they require much more hand labor than you typical incandescent bulb, labor costs are also much higher, leading many companies to the massive low-cost pool of labor available in China.

The factory closure is symptomatic of America’s larger economic problems – a declining manufacturing industry and a utter failure to adapt to changing needs in the marketplace to capitalize on emerging industries such as the CFL’s.

When campaigning for the presidency, Barack Obama vowed to restore America’s manufacturing base through clean energy technologies, innovation and less reliance on foreign oil, all with the goal of creating five million so-called “green collar” jobs.

“My presidency will mark a new chapter in America’s leadership on climate change that will strengthen our security and create millions of new jobs in the process” he said.

It appears, however, that America missed that boat. China’s cheap labor, combined with free trade policies that afford companies with international portability, have propelled China to the top of the mountain in terms of clean energy investment.

In 2009, China became the world’s leader in private investment in renewable energy, according to a report by the Pew Charitable Trusts. Even in the midst of the worst recession since the Great Depression, China invested $34.6 billion in green technologies.

America, meanwhile, has leaked clean energy investment and jobs like a sieve. According to the report, the U.S. has invested just over half the amount of China in clean energy technologies. For all of 2009, private investment in the U.S. totaled just $18.6 billion, down 48 percent from 2008.

A report by the Investigative Reporting Workshop and ABC News, found that $8 of every $10 spent on wind energy projects through the stimulus package went to a foreign company. Total recovery funds spent on wind energy projects total nearly $2 billion.

The report estimates stimulus funding for wind projects have created roughly 6,000 manufacturing jobs overseas and just hundreds in America. Thus far, the Recovery Act has paid to create 1,807 wind turbines to fuel American homes, businesses, schools and other buildings. Just 588 of those were manufactured domestically, according to the report.

“The United States’ competitive position is at risk in the emerging clean energy economy,” Phyllis Cuttino, director of the Pew Environment Group’s Global Warming Campaign, said in a statement attached to the group‘s report.

Originally published in Economy in Crisis on September 8, 2010.

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