Hu Jintao“We know the country that harnesses the power of clean, renewable energy will lead the 21st century,” President Obama declared in his February address to a joint session of Congress. But harnessing that power will require real policy incentives and bold investments. In other words, waiting around means waiting for someone else to “lead the 21st century…”

With just that in mind, I’ve written quite a bitrecently aboutChina’s sharpening edge on the global clean energy market. Today, Eric Lotke at Campaign for America’s Future spells out even more reasons why China’s energy and trade policies are putting them ahead of western nations—namely the United States—when it comes to clean energy technology. Lotke’s point is that the United States is “hobbled” by anti-protectionist precautions:

China is positioning itself for that leadership role. Just as Japan and South Korea sheltered their domestic automakers from American competition until they developed skills, products and economies of scale, China is shielding its clean energy sector while it matures and grows.

  • Here are some factoids Lotke pulled from the New York Times that make the case yet again:

    • China’s exports over 95 percent of its solar energy products to the United States and Europe. But China required that at least 80 percent of the equipment in its own solar power plant be made in China.
    • The Chinese government bid 25 large contracts for wind turbines this spring—and Chinese companies won every one of them. All six competitive multinationals were disqualified on technical grounds. (Chinese companies that had never built a turbine won the contracts.)
    • China requires 70 percent domestic content for wind turbines installed in China. European manufacturers built turbine factories in China specifically to comply—but they still don’t win contracts, and many have stopped bidding.
    • While T. Boone Pickens delays plans for his American wind farms, China is building six wind farms twice Pickens’ size—financed by low-interest loans from state-owned banks.

    Apparently, China isn’t alone. Public Citizen points out that the European Union and Canada negotiated to exclude broad swaths of government procurement from WTO and NAFTA (for Canada) requirements. And, as Lotke points out, in European countries, stimulus money stays in Europe—while US stimulus money is free to “bleed overseas to buy imported goods and equipment. While other countries use energy to grow domestic industry, the US imports solar cells from China.”

    Several key questions arise from all this: are our energy and trade policies not only set up to hurt us in the long run but also hobbling current efforts at economic recovery and job creation? What do we in the Northwest have to gain by investing in clean energy and green collar jobs? Are we squandering our competitive advantage while Hu Jintao wins the clean energy race?

    Image courtesy: Wikipedia.