Very slowly, that reliance on imports might be changing. Gamesa North America, which is Spanish-owned, makes blades and nose cones in eastern Pennsylvania for assembly into wind turbines. A new company, SpectraWatt, a spinoff from Intel, started production of solar cells last month at a factory in Fishkill, N.Y., manufacturing a component of solar panels now often imported.
Andrew B. Wilson, chief executive of SpectraWatt and a former Intel executive, said the just-opened $50 million plant could not have been built without the $20 million in public subsidies and incentives that SpectraWatt received. “If we want green manufacturing to flourish in the United States,” Mr. Wilson said, “then government support, for the time being, is necessary.”
In all, fewer than 200 factories in the United States are devoted to green production, employing no more than 15,000 workers. While the numbers are rising, many of the plants are foreign-owned, and several Democratic senators want the incentives stopped until Congress can change the law, restricting the subsidies to American-owned companies.
Whatever the ownership, assembly operations that rely on imported parts do relatively little to revive manufacturing, which represents less than 12 percent of the nation’s economic activity. (In the early 1950s, it was nearly 30 percent.) Employment in manufacturing similarly has fallen, to 11.5 million today from more than 16 million in 1953.
In the rise of green manufacturing, Asia, particularly China and Japan, dominates in solar, and Europe, particularly Germany and also Spain, in wind and high-speed rail, the latter a potentially giant industry that does not yet exist in the United States.
“Over the last 10 years we have not been competitive with Europe and Asia,” said Matt Rogers, a senior adviser in the Energy Department. “So many of the best manufacturers started there and we weren’t in the game.”
Ethan Zindler, the head of North American research for Bloomberg New Energy Finance, a consultancy, commented: “The reality is that the Europeans ramped up five years ago. And the Chinese in just the last two years have made the kind of progress that it took the Europeans five years to achieve.”
Green economy: Canada’s opportunity for prosperity