Conergy Inc., a Germany-based solar company with a U.S. office in Denver, anticipates adding workers despite the recession, said Anthony Fotopoulos, chief financial and operating officer of Conergy Americas. The company now employs 118 people.
Wait and see
Others are waiting to see how any U.S. economic recovery plays out.
Suzlon Wind Energy Corp., based in India, manufactures blades in Minnesota. It is holding off on any U.S. expansion, having just added manufacturing capacity in India, China and Europe.
Before much expansion can occur, companies said they need clarity on the Buy American requirements in the stimulus. The language limits stimulus spending to American-made products, with some generous exceptions.
One of those exceptions probably will allow waivers for businesses located in 26 countries. But until the White House clarifies the language, foreign-based companies say it is nebulous enough that they are nervous.
The goal of buying American is problematic in the renewable power business because so many companies are foreign.
The largest producer of wind, based on installed capacity, is General Electric Co., a U.S. company. The second-biggest, Vestas, is based in Denmark. The No. 3 player, Siemens Wind Power, also is based in Denmark; its parent, Siemens AG, is German. Gamesa, in fourth place, is a Spanish company.
U.S. companies fare better in the geothermal energy market. California-based Calpine Corp. is the largest. The No. 2 company, Ormat Technologies, is a subsidiary of an Israeli company. No. 3, Terra-Gen Power LLC, and No. 4, MidAmerican Energy Co., are U.S.-based.
Foreign-based businesses are eligible for tax incentives when they pay taxes on U.S.-earned income, the National Association of Manufacturers said.
Companies based abroad say they will be creating U.S.-based jobs.
"The whole concept, I think, of foreign-owned is a misnomer," said Kevin Hazel, vice president of supply-chain management in the Americas for Siemens Wind Power U.S. "Siemens, with 85,000 employees [in the United States], are we foreign-owned? Or are we employing and adding to the economy here?"
Seimens just opened a wind blade factory in Iowa, a plant that now employees 360 people.
Of the top 10 manufacturers of wind turbines, seven have manufacturing facilities in the United States, said Julie Clendenin, spokeswoman for the American Wind Energy Association. Beyond that, she said, there are hundreds of U.S.-based companies creating components that go into the turbines.
But meeting the stimulus bills' goal for accelerating green power would not be possible using just U.S.-based companies and American-made products. Because European and Asian companies increased their green energy use over the last few decades, production shifted to those countries.
"We'd all prefer that money to go to U.S. companies, but at the moment, that's just not possible," said Sasha Mackler, research director for the National Commission on Energy Policy, a bipartisan panel of business, labor and environmental representatives acting as advisers to policymakers.
Business watchers believe that will start to change as the industry expands.
State mandates spur U.S. renewable industry
Solar, wind and geothermal already have seen big growth in the last two years. That came largely as a result of 29 states that now have mandates requiring utilities to generate a portion of their power from renewable sources.