China converting US from coal to wind tech

By Chris Dalby Source:Global Times Published: 2017/6/8 23:48:39

Illustration: Luo Xuan/GT

US President Donald Trump's removal of the US from the Paris climate change agreement has been correctly reported as an abdication of American leadership on the topic. The news that the EU and China immediately partnered up to enlarge their commitments showed that the world will get on without the US. However, the real surprise came with the report that Chinese wind company Goldwind was training former coal workers in the US to be wind professionals.

In recent months, Goldwind Americas has been making aggressive strides to capture more of the US market. A new headquarters in Chicago and investment by the quasi-legendary Berkshire Hathaway were indications of that. Proof of that has come in January with the purchase of two wind farms in Montana, confirming Goldwind's position among the top five wind companies in the US.

This expansion has also brought with it the need to create more jobs. Certain states have embraced this fully, such as Indiana, while others have sought to fight it. Wyoming, for example, has levied a tax on wind energy generation. This is a rearguard action by the leading coal producer in the US but Goldwind essentially showed them that it did not matter.

It has announced that, in its search for more wind technicians, it will be offering a free training course for coal workers in Wyoming to reconvert. Named "Goldwind Works," this will begin with a series of meetings in Wyoming before beginning a training course that offers visits to Goldwind sites in Montana.

Now, certain American communities have coal running through their veins. Their towns were formed around coal mines and most locals can trace their origins back to those who settled there to mine. While coal is progressively being consigned to history, this attachment and the accompanying sense of loss in these communities has in large part contributed to climate change denial. To many towns in Kentucky or Wyoming, climate change is not a scientific truth, it is an attack on a way of life.

With little to no investment being made to recuperate these towns, Goldwind's model offers a new path. This training is not compulsory, it is free of charge and it makes sense. In 2015, American wind turbine technicians had an average salary of $53,030. This is comparable to the average salary of a coal miner, around $50,868. The rising availability of wind jobs is not a cure-all for every coal community but it is a start.

Goldwind's example is one that must be replicated around the world. To be clear, Goldwind was not operating out of kindness, or generosity. This is a rational market decision, which happens to meet its recruitment needs and tap into an underemployed source of labor.

Other sectors have been benefiting from similar Chinese experience, particularly on infrastructure. China Railway Rolling Stock Corporation (CRRC) sent a group of its American staff to China in April to learn about its latest subway manufacturing techniques. These people will then return and train other colleagues ahead of CRRC subway contracts in Boston and Los Angeles.

The lesson here is not to praise China over America. Despite Trump's anti-environmental stance, the reaction from American cities, states and companies has shown the US will keep its commitment to environmental protection. But it does show that this sort of international cooperation is the only way forward. Yet with geopolitical mistrust currently riding high, how do we build this sort of agreement? How can countries, whether at the private or public level, put doubts aside and work together to best share experiences, technology and success in renewable energy?

The World Economic Forum (WEF) is confident they will. In an April report, it was positive that China and the US can do much to help each other overcome the barriers to increased, broad-based, and high-quality job creation.

According to the WEF, the US side can offer to share technology and regulatory experience while China can put its increasingly modern services sector into play to help both countries revamp their economies, boost small and medium-sized enterprises and course-correct ahead of advancing automation. 

The author is a Mexico-based analyst of Chinese politics and economics.


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