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Ben Weingarten

Federalist Senior Contributor; Claremont Institute Fellow

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US green energy transition benefits red China

Sep 05, 2023

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Given the growing concern over climate change, there’s been more and more focus on the possibilities and potential of green energy. Many of the material components necessary for that transition, however, come from China, and that puts the United States in a bind.

Straight Arrow News contributor Ben Weingarten argues that U.S. green energy goals and policies are “unfeasible,” “untenable” and “undesirable,” and that the costs of empowering China should be weighed more heavily against the benefits of a U.S. energy transition.

Casting global warming as “the single-most existential threat to humanity we’ve ever faced,” the Biden administration has called for reducing greenhouse gas emissions to net zero by 2050. To pursue this goal, the White House has sought to spur a radical transformation in power generation and usage — from conventional energy sources like oil and natural gas, to alternatives like wind and solar.

It’s backed bills containing hundreds of billions of dollars in funding and incentives, and used executive and regulatory powers to accelerate the development and deployment of “clean” technologies from electric vehicles to heat pumps, and remake the entire power grid.

There are many issues with this revolutionary effort. It’s arguably economically unfeasible, practically untenable, and plain undesirable if not even environmentally dubious. It’s a recipe for higher energy prices and hardship — while we ignore our incredible energy advantages.

But it gets worse: China would appear to be the main beneficiary of our greening.

There’s an underrated way the Biden administration is empowering our greatest adversary, Communist China — while presenting the appearance of countering it.

 

And it’s even causing some Democrats heartburn.

 

Casting global warming as “the single-most existential threat to humanity we’ve ever faced,” the Biden administration has called for reducing greenhouse gas emissions to net zero by 2050.

 

To pursue this goal, the White House has sought to spur a radical transformation in power generation and usage – from conventional energy sources like oil and natural gas, to alternatives like wind and solar.

 

It’s backed bills containing hundreds of billions of dollars in funding and incentives, and used executive and regulatory powers to accelerate the development and deployment of “clean” technologies from electric vehicles to heat pumps, and remake the entire power grid.

 

There are many issues with this revolutionary effort.

 

It’s arguably economically unfeasible, practically untenable, and plain undesirable if not even environmentally dubious.

 

It’s a recipe for higher energy prices and hardship – while we ignore our incredible energy advantages.

 

But it gets worse: China would appear to be the main beneficiary of our greening.

 

We will not only be reliant on it to try and meet the Biden administration’s probably unattainable goals – giving it leverage over us – but likely subsidize its stranglehold on us.

 

That’s because China – the world’s leading polluter by the way – dominates in clean energy, controlling the materials and manufacturing the components key to producing the wind turbines, and solar panels, and lithium-ion batteries that Biden’s alternative energy transition depends on.

 

China’s the leading producer of 30 of 50 minerals, including rare earth metals, the U.S. government deems critical, particularly for energy.

 

Rare earths are pivotal to items from EV motors to wind turbines. We’re 95% net import reliant on these materials. China produces 70% of rare earths globally. It controls the rare earth “value chain.” America has one active rare earth mine thanks to environmentalist hamstringing.

 

China’s also the world’s largest refiner of other key elements to clean energy technologies like copper, cobalt, nickel, and lithium. We have zero refining capacity for many of these materials.

 

The upshot is that:

 

  • 10 of the top 15 global wind turbine manufacturers are Chinese.
  • China’s share in each of the five key manufacturing stages of solar panels exceeds 80%.
  • And China dominates in every aspect of the lithium-ion battery value chain.

 

The Biden administration wants to force a rapid green transformation by mandating that power plants dramatically curtail emissions, and that we magically increase EV sales 10x – most importantly through committing $369 billion in green funding and incentives through the “Inflation Reduction Act” – though some estimates suggest it’s actually $1.2 trillion worth of largesse.

 

Thing is, we’re reliant on China up and down the supply chain – particularly because the greens don’t want America doing the “dirty” work in mining and refining the materials critical to onshoring “clean energy.”

 

Even if America fast-tracked needed projects, it’s not clear we could sustain a wholly domestic clean energy industry.

 

And you certainly can’t homesource it — as former Deputy National Security Advisor and advisor to the Secretary of Energy Dr. Victoria Coates told me in connection with a report I wrote on this issue — on the aggressive timeline the Biden administration has set.

 

“I don’t know that we’d even be up and running by 2050, let alone implementing a transition that would impact carbon emissions,” Coates told me.

 

Therefore, we “can’t decouple from China in this process….”

 

The State Department disputed the argument.

 

But it flies in the face of the science and the math.

 

The fundamental question, Coates told me, is “How much China is too much China?”

 

The White House has indicated the bar is pretty high.

 

Chinese companies could directly or indirectly benefit from subsidies under the Inflation Reduction Act despite the bill’s purported focus on building the American clean energy industry.

 

One study show six Chinese companies have already announced plans to partner with American outfits to build solar panels and other components domestically, making them eligible for an estimated $1 billion in tax credits.

 

The same thing’s happening in the auto industry.

 

Treasury also seems to be loosely interpreting provisions of the IRA aimed at limiting credits to electric vehicles and solar panels that are American made – so that EVs or panels with Chinese parts get treated as American made.

 

Democrat Senator Joe Manchin panned Treasury’s guidance on EVs as “a pathetic excuse to spend more taxpayer dollars as quickly as possible,” that “further cedes control to the Chinese Communist Party…”

 

When Treasury issued guidance in May indicating that solar project developers would receive a 10% bonus tax credit for using solar panels manufactured in America – even if they contained foreign silicon wafers, some 97% of which are produced in China – it drew stern rebukes from Manchin and other populist Democrats.

 

A bipartisan chorus has also raised concerns about how rigorously the Biden administration is enforcing sanctions aimed at keeping Chinese solar panels from America’s shores – ones built with polysilicon largely produced in China’s Xinjiang region, where forced labor is prevalent.

 

Another issue raised by critics is that because of the amount of money the administration is doling out, and the speed at which it’s dispensing it, that it’s not scrutinizing who the recipients might be – potentially to China’s benefit.

 

Republicans point to a $200 million grant made under the Energy Department’s Battery Manufacturing and Recycling Grants Program, a creation of the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law, to a company called Microvast, as an example of the problem.

 

Microvast’s battery production largely takes place in China, and China’s government by the company’s own admission “exerts substantial influence over” it.

 

Biden’s green bonanza sure seems like a boon to Communist China.

 

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