Posted by: Frederik Balfour on November 2, 2009
Late last week, a Chinese-U.S. consortium announced it was building a 600 megawatt wind farm in Texas costing $1.5 billion. The deal, in which the Chinese partner is putting up 49% of the cash, stipulates that the wind turbines, about 240 of them, will be manufactured in China by A-Power Energy Generation Systems, a mainland company located in Shenyang. A-Power is the majority investor in Shenyang Power Consortium that is participating in the Texas facility.
A New York Times blog about the deal provoked a number of comments from U.S. readers upset that the project would generate more jobs overseas than at home, a particularly vexing notion given that the project is seeking 30% of its financing from Washington stimulus funds. But what a lot of readers overlooked [though the Times did not] was that A-Power is listed on Nasdaq. Remember that ordinary Chinese are not allowed to invest in overseas stocks, so while jobs may be created in China, the profits will accrue to U.S. and other international investors in A-Power. [Its stock traded up 15% Oct. 29 on the news]. Other Nasdaq-listed Chinese renewable energy companies include solar panel makers Suntech [STP] and Trina Solar [TSL] which have made strong inroads into the U.S.
But it’s not just the Chinese who are gaining ground in the U.S. renewable energy sector. At the end of 2008, Indian wind turbine maker Suzlon Energy had 10% of the U.S. market. Though it built a $25 million dollar rotary blade factory in Pinestone Minnesota employing 400 people, [the economics of wind power dictate that blades be manufactured close to market] the more costly turbines are made in India. More telling perhaps of the realities of globalization in the renewable energy sector: all engineering and research work is also done in India.
That reminds me. While writing a story about U.S. investment in Southeast Asia, I noted that Tempe,Arizon-based First Solar [FSLR] is building a $680 million solar panel factory in Kulim, Malaysia. The company denied my request for an interview or for a response to written questions, leaving me to conclude it was not keen on publicity about its offshore investment. The most recent mention of the investment appearing on the company website was a 2007 press release.
An alert reader pointed out to me that First Solar in September signed an memorandum of understanding with China to build a 2-gigawatt solar power field, perhaps becoming the world’s largest such facility, sprawling across an area in Inner Mongolia [a province that is also heavily into wind-powered energy also a huge wind farm area] larger than Manhattan. Here’s some info from the company’s website.
Here’s another intriguing U.S. company, Check out this interesting piece in the latest BusinessWeek magazine by my colleague Adam Aston about a new wind turbine under development by FloDesign in Wilbraham (Mass.)Its prototype designs incorporate features used in jet engines instead of the traditional propeller-type blades in use today.