Foreign Firms Benefitting From U.S. Green Energy Funding

Cannon Power Group, based in Rancho Santa Fe, is among the minority of American firms benefitting from millions of dollars in economic stimulus grants dedicated to green energy.

The company's white turbines, which generate wind energy, dot the landscape along the Colombia River in Washington state. The project, known as Windy Flats, is one of the largest wind projects in the U.S. and will be funded by an expected $170 million in green energy stimulus money.

"If you build the project, then the grants will come," explained Gary Hardke, President of Cannon Power Group.

Hardke said the economic stimulus money is allowing his company to expand its project and put more people to work. He also said he is not surprised that American firms are falling behind on cashing in on the stimulus money. Of the $2 billion set aside for green energy, three quarters have gone to foreign firms.

Hardke cited foreign firms' preparedness to take advantage of the U.S. government program.

"It's hard to be a successful wind energy developer without a big checkbook," he explained.

The big check book in previous decades has been opened by European governments who have invested heavily in wind energy in the past. For example, Spain is a world leader. On a windy day, half the energy needed can come from wind.

"They've poured billions of dollars into renewable energy over the last two decades," Hardke pointed out.

At the same time, past U.S. government support has wavered. Now that it's the U.S. investing heavily, Hardke said foreign-based firms are more established to collect the money.

A-Power Energy Generation Systems is one example. The company lists a downtown San Diego office suite as its business and mailing address in filings with the Securities and Exchange Commission. However, that office suite is vacant.

The company is based in China and is part of a consortium building a wind farm in Texas that may qualify for federal stimulus money. The project is reportedly generating 300 jobs in the U.S., 800 jobs in China.

Foreign firms like A-Power are not barred from the stimulus money as one basic qualification is met, according to Hardke.

"The site of the project has to be in the United States," he said.

Cannon is developing wind power in Baja California that won't qualify for stimulus money.

For its Washington state project, while the firm is American, that does not mean all stimulus money it receives will stay in America.

Of the $19.4 million already collected from the federal government, Hardke said about half was paid to Siemens, a German firm which makes the wind turbines.

Hardke said the main U.S. manufacturers were out of stock or did not make the size that Cannon needed.

NOTE: This story was reported by the Watchdog Institute in a collaborative effort with the Investigative Reporting Workshop at American University in Washington, D.C., and 10News. A version of this story will be published in The San Diego Union-Tribune Tuesday. For more on the Watchdog Institute's story, visit www.watchdoginstitute.org/story.html