Representatives of nearly 200 countries recently met in
Argentina to work out the next steps in dealing with climate change.
Seven years ago, many nations agreed to reduce fossil fuel emissions
and greenhouse gases. The U.S. didn’t agree to reduce its emissions.
Now, a report from the National Environmental Trust says that decision
is hurting American businesses. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s
Stephanie Hemphill reports:
Representatives of nearly 200 countries recently met in Argentina to
work out the next steps in dealing with climate change. Seven years
ago, many nations agreed to reduce fossil fuel emissions and
greenhouse gases. The U.S. didn’t agree to reduce its emissions.
Now a report from the National Environmental Trust says that
decision is hurting American businesses. The Great Lakes Radio
Consortium’s Stephanie Hemphill reports:
Mike LeBeau installs wind generators and photovoltaic solar
collectors. His business, Conservation Technologies, is in Duluth,
Minnesota. In the U.S., there are not a lot of contractors doing this
kind of work.
“This is a two and a half kilowatt photovoltaic system.”
Two panels about the size of a dining room table stand on the top
floor of a downtown garage. The only other equipment is an inverter
– a metal box the size of a shoebox – that transforms the direct
current from the solar panels to the alternating current we use in our
“The electricity is produced here by the sun, fed into the wiring in the
building here, and any excess is distributed out onto the utility grid.”
The solar panels were made in Japan. And the inverter is from
LeBeau has been installing systems like this for ten years. Demand
was slow until a year ago, when Minnesota started a rebate program.
LeBeau has put in more generators this year than in the last ten
With another rebate offered by the local utility, LeBeau says the cost
of installing a typical system can be cut nearly in half.
And he says the increased activity has persuaded some of the
naysayers to help rather than hinder renewable energy projects.
“Now the electrical inspectors don’t have any choice – it’s being
supported by the utilities, and by the state of Minnesota, so it’s really
changed the atmosphere and the climate that we work in.”
But LeBeau says the state rebate program is a drop in the bucket
compared to what’s being done in other countries.
Christopher Reed agrees. He’s an engineer who advises individuals
and businesses on renewable energy projects. He says U.S. policy
has been piecemeal and erratic. For instance, there’s a federal tax
credit for renewable energy production. But it’s only in place for a
year or two at a time.
“When the incentive is out there, everybody ramps up as fast as they
can, and we slam projects in to meet the deadline before the credit
expires, and then everybody sits until the credit gets reintroduced
again. This has happened three times now.”
Reed says that discourages long-term investment.
Reed’s business is one of several American firms studied for the
report from the National Environmental Trust. The report says Japan
and most countries in Europe are providing major and consistent
incentives to encourage production of renewable energy. The report
says this approach is saving money, creating jobs, and putting
businesses in a position to export their new technologies and
Reed says he’s frustrated to see European and Japanese companies
thrive, using American inventions such as photovoltaic, or PV,
technology, while American manufacturers fail.
“It’s almost embarrassing. The PV technology, that came out of Bell
Labs in the U.S. We should be the world leaders.”
But some observers say the worry is overblown. Darren McKinney is
a spokesman for the National Association of Manufacturers. He says
the U.S. has nothing to fear from German or Japanese businesses.
He says fossil fuels are doing a good job of stoking the American
“The fact of the matter is that wind and solar and biomass and
geothermal simply aren’t ready for prime time. If someone wants to
make an argument ‘well, they could be ready for prime time if they
received x-amount of tax cuts,’ I won’t necessarily argue against that
because I don’t know enough about the technologies. What I do
know is it would be cutting off our nose to spite our energy face if we
turn our backs on fossil fuels.”
Right now, oil and natural gas get the lion’s share of federal subsidies
in the U.S. Subsidies for renewable energy sources are very small in
comparison. As other countries shift to new technologies, American
companies could be left behind.
For the Great Lakes Radio Consortium, I’m Stephanie Hemphill.