US launches drive to boost clean energy exports

WASHINGTON, Dec 7 (Reuters) - The United States onTuesday launched a new drive to boost exports of renewable energy products with a warning from Commerce Secretary Gary Locke that the United States could lose jobs in that area because Congress has not passed an energy policy.

“The longer we wait, the more the Chinese, the Germans and others will be moving along,” Locke said at the first meeting of a new private sector advisory committee charged with developing an export expansion plan.

“In a few years, we’re going to wake up and say, ‘How is it that Berlin and Shanghai have become the equivalent of Silicon Valley in clean energy with all the jobs?,’” he said.

The United States exported at least $2 billion of solar, wind, biomass, geothermal, hydropower and other renewable energy products in 2009, compared to $1.26 billion in 2007.

But it ran a significant trade deficit in the combined sectors, with imports of wind power equipment alone totaling more than $3.67 billion in 2009.

The U.S. Steelworkers Union accuses China of using unfair trade practices and subsidies to support its renewable energy sector and wants U.S. Trade Representative Ron Kirk to take action against Beijing at the World Trade Organization.

A decision on the union’s request is due by Jan 15, just shortly before Chinese President Hu Jintao will be in Washington for talks with President Barack Obama.

Locke did not address that issue onTuesday, but noted China’s commitment to all types of renewable energy.

“The Chinese are putting in almost $12 billion a month in the clean energy sector ... They’re doing this because they really want to be the world’s supplier of clean energy and they recognize this will support millions of jobs,” Locke said.

He also criticized Congress for failing to pass comprehensive energy legislation, but said the Obama administration would do as much it could with existing authority to foster renewable energy growth.

The administration's new advisory committee includes executives from U.S. renewable energy firms including GE GE.N, Southwest Windpower, Suniva, United Solar Ovonics and Covanta Energy and from a number of industry associations.

The U.S. Export-Import Bank said it would increase support for renewable energy, energy efficiency and other environmentally beneficial exports as part of the Obama administration’s initiative.

“Over the past two years, our financing in these sectors has more than doubled to approximately $500 million in fiscal year 2010, and we look forward to continuing this growth,” Ex-Im Bank President Fred Hochberg said in a statement.

The U.S. initiative came as almost 200 nations were meeting in Cancun, Mexico to discuss what steps the international community should take to tackle global warming.

Reporting by Doug Palmer; Editing by Cynthia Osterman