Iberdrola is a big renewable energy operator. It has developed more than 40 wind energy projects across the U.S., from its Oregon home base to the Great Plains to northern New England.
Iberdrola plans to get into the solar business. Don Furman, the CEO of Iberdrola's Portland-based renewable energy unit, says the Southwest has exceptionally good solar resources - intense sunlight, high altitudes, low humidity.
Iberdrola is headquartered in Spain. Why is a Spanish company eyeing solar development opportunities in the American Southwest? And by the way, why do foreign companies have such a large presence in the U.S. renewable energy business? Vestas is a big wind turbine manufacturer. Parent company headquartered in Randers, Denmark. E.ON is a wind developer. Parent company headquartered in Dusseldorf. enXco is another wind developer. Parent company headquartered in Paris.
Furman told EnergyBiz.com: "The reason foreign companies are here is because there were no American companies, and the reason there were no American companies is we gave it up." We developed the technology, but didn't adopt consistent, long-term policies to push it into the marketplace. Other countries did. As a result, Furman, said, "All this technology went overseas."
And what has Congress done about this state of affairs? Not much. The Senate's banana peel moment this summer, when it couldn't pass any energy legislation, much less a comprehensive energy bill, sent a strong signal to overseas moneymen that the U.S. is not the place to put their renewable energy investment capital.
The sums slipping through our fingers are depressingly large. In 2009, China attracted almost twice as much private clean energy investment capital as the U.S. did. Two years ago, according to recent testimony from Bloomberg New Energy Finance, China supplied only 10 to 15 percent of the solar equipment installed in California. By the end of 2009, that figure had soared to 40 percent. China's solar module manufacturers enjoy a price advantage, not because of cheap labor costs, as conventional wisdom has it, but because they invested big and reaped economies of scale.
Kevin Parker, head of Frankfurt-based Deutsche Asset Management, described U.S. leadership a little more harshly than Iberdrola's Furman: "They're asleep at the wheel on climate change, asleep at the wheel on job growth, asleep at the wheel on this industrial revolution taking place in the energy industry." All investors are asking for, Parker said, is an energy policy that is clear and long-term. Since they're not getting what they need from the U.S., Parker said, they're sending their money to Europe and China.
Investors put their money where they feel their money is welcome. Rightly or wrongly, clean energy investors perceive that the U.S. is sending an obnoxiously loud signal that their money is not wanted here.
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