warning Hi, we've moved to USCANNENBERGMEDIA.COM. Visit us there!

Neon Tommy - Annenberg digital news

Obama's Failure To Advance Sustainable Energy Development

Katrina Kaiser |
October 16, 2012 | 6:14 p.m. PDT


Investing in things like wind farms will lead the U.S. toward a sustainable future. (Tom, Creative Commons)
Investing in things like wind farms will lead the U.S. toward a sustainable future. (Tom, Creative Commons)
President Obama’s unexpected decision last month to block a Chinese company from building a wind farm in Oregon sheds light on how the United States’ pursuit of “energy independence” makes it difficult for foreign companies to invest in a sustainable future.

An executive order blocked the privately owned Ralls Corporation from building wind turbines in Boardman, Oregon on national security grounds, because the proposed development was close to a naval weapons development facility.

However, while the administration cited “credible evidence” that Ralls and parent company Sany Corporation "might take action… to impair” national security, the decision did not discuss how or why this would happen. Only one out of four wind developments proposed by Ralls were in restricted airspace, but the administration ordered divestment from all Ralls wind projects in the area. Ralls and Sany are currently suing the administration for overstepping its constitutional powers.

The refusal to provide more detailed justification for the wind farm ban illustrates how the attitude of perpetual suspicion of China prevents the United States from building a sustainable energy future. Even though, in an effort to placate investors, the Treasury Department stressed that the administration’s decision isn’t a precedent for all Chinese energy investment, it still stated that national security concerns are factors that will always condition it.

Energy systems and their consequences are felt internationally. Export-import markets for coal, oil and natural gas mean that fossil fuels are the primary source of power for most of the world. The energy economy created by these market structures has not only led to local pollution and environmental degradation, but has also accelerated symptoms of global climate change, such as coastal and glacial erosion and extreme weather events.

With wide-ranging problems such as these, solutions must be global as well; they must include each of the most consumptive countries. It's one thing when the United States, as a result of its own economic interests, won’t agree to international treaties and mandates as approaches for developing sustainability; it's another thing when it sets the world back even further by making sure that market-based projects such as the Ralls wind development have to prove their merits on vague security concerns ahead of concrete considerations of the long-term benefits to society of those projects.

Global climate change and unsustainable energy consumption patterns are also reasons that the United States needs to set aside the nebulous goal of preserving economic competitiveness in relation to China. China is a world leader in sustainable wind and solar electricity production technologies because of heavy direct government investment. Their strength in manufacturing leads to less expensive technology, which could help promote sustainable development across the globe. For instance, Chinese-financed wind and solar developments could be installed and maintained by American workers, which could jumpstart national motivation to build a green electricity economy. The general sentiment in the United States that Chinese workers are “taking our jobs” is overblown.

In the case of solar energy, the United States has done exactly the opposite: it has enacted large tariffs on Chinese solar panels. This has contributed to an imbalance between solar panel production and installation, which is hurting future prospects for the international solar industry and making it harder to achieve sustainable electricity. Even American companies have criticized the tariffs’ protectionist logic, because Chinese companies often buy the equipment and silicon needed to make solar panels from American companies. Inexpensive panels would make it cheaper to set up new systems, for which installers hire local American workers to set up and service.

Ultimately, sharing is caring in a global market. Renewable energy’s long-term, worldwide benefits outweigh the United States’ vague security concerns. The government should reevaluate its security-focused relationship with Chinese and other foreign energy companies, and institute policies based on competitive advantage that draw on the economic strengths of different countries.  


Reach Contributor Katrina Kaiser here; follow her here.



Craig Gillespie directed this true story about "the most daring rescue mission in the history of the U.S. Coast Guard.”

Watch USC Annenberg Media's live State of the Union recap and analysis here.