Our guest blogger is Kate Gordon, Vice President of Energy Policy at the Center for American Progress.The statement by Rep. Cliff Stearns (R-FL) that we can’t compete with China on clean energy manufacturing is not only untrue, it’s frankly un-American. Lest we forget, the U.S. is a major manufacturer, with 12 percent of our GDP coming from the manufacturing sector. To put that in perspective, when we recently lost less than 4 percent of GDP after the housing bubble burst, we called it a “Great Recession.” Twelve percent is a lot. And in the clean economy, including renewable energy, efficiency, clean transit, and transportation, more than a quarter of all jobs are in manufacturing.
So maybe Mr. Stearns didn’t get the memo, but we’re already competing with China on clean energy manufacturing in general, and in solar and wind manufacturing in particular. We actually export solar panel components to China, which – along with Germany – is actually the leading destination for most of those exports. And in the wind sector, there are over 400 manufacturing firms across America making the component parts of our domestic wind turbines, and we not only make about 50 percent of all the wind components we use here in the U.S., but we also export parts to Canada, Mexico, Chile, and other countries.
Sure, China may sometimes out-compete us when it comes to mass manufacturing of mature technologies, using lower labor costs and strong subsidies. But where America excels has always been in more advanced manufacturing of new and emerging technologies, where our high-skill workers, proximity to inventors and engineers, and strong university and lab support make us a leader.
The big question facing the U.S. is not whether we’re capable of competing with China to manufacture the clean energy future. The question is whether political leaders like Mr. Stearns will develop the courage and vision to embrace that future. Right now there are millions of Americans with jobs in clean energy innovation, manufacturing, installation, operations, and maintenance. But if Congress can’t get it together to pass the policies and programs we need to ensure a stable market for clean energy technologies, our existing clean energy companies may just start looking elsewhere for a better deal. And then China really will win.