President-elect Barack Obama took his “American Recovery and Reinvestment Plan” on the road Friday, talking up his clean energy plans at an Ohio factory that manufactures nuts and bolts used to build wind turbines.
Obama toured the Cardinal Fastener & Specialty Company in Bedford Heights, Ohio, which he cited as evidence that “a renewable energy economy isn’t some pie-in-the-sky, far-off future.”
“It’s happening all across America right now,” he said. “It’s providing alternatives to foreign oil now. It can create millions of additional jobs and entire new industries if we act right now.”
The visit and his speech afterward were meant to highlight his stimulus plan, which calls for doubling the production of renewable energy in the next three years, doing energy-efficiency retrofits on 75 percent of federal buildings, and weatherizing 2 million homes.
Obama said his plan, if enacted, would “put nearly half a million people to work building wind turbines and solar panels; constructing fuel-efficient cars and buildings; and developing the new energy technologies that will lead to new jobs, more savings, and a cleaner, safer planet in the bargain.” A stronger economy, he said, “starts with new, clean sources of energy.”
He also warned that without significant investments, renewable industries like Cardinal could go under. “I’m told that if we don’t act now, because of the economic downturn, half of the wind projects planned for 2009 could wind up being abandoned,” said Obama. “Think about that. Think about all the businesses that wouldn’t come to be, all the jobs that wouldn’t be created, all the clean energy we wouldn’t produce.”
The speech was particularly salient on a day when The New York Times detailed some major layoffs in the wind-energy industry. North Dakota-based D.M.I. Industries, a wind-turbine manufacturer, is laying off 20 percent of its staff at three plants in Oklahoma, North Dakota, and Ontario. Six months ago, the same company had announced plans to expand and become the “largest wind tower manufacturer in North America.” The Danish wind-turbine company L.M. Glasfiber also announced 150 layoffs at its Arkansas plant last week, and the Spanish wind company Gamesa is laying off 180 employees at its eastern Pennsylvania plant.
The layoffs have wind and other renewable sectors pushing even more strongly to add language to the stimulus bill that would make renewable-energy tax credits refundable. The version of the bill released yesterday doesn’t include such language, but there’s talk that the House Ways and Means Committee might address the issue. Others on the Hill are instead talking about creating a renewable grant program that would provide cash more directly. Reps. Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.) and Zach Wamp (R-Tenn.) have sent a letter to Obama asking him to create a $10 billion “National Clean Energy Lending Authority” for this purpose.