New Law Says Pentagon Must Buy American Solar Panels

Sorry, Chinese solar panel salesmen, your days of racking up commissions from sales to the American military are over, because a new federal law forbids the Pentagon from buying non-American panels.

The New York Times spotted the restriction in a military authorization law signed last week, and says the move is meant to bite back at the Chinese government, which is believed to subsidize its solar panel industry to help it dominate in global market share and snuff out American competition. The new law could add a little hot sauce to next week’s visit from Chinese president Hu Jintao.

Do you make an effort to buy American products, or avoid buying stuff made in a particular country?

Pentagon Must ‘Buy American,’ Barring Chinese Solar Panels [The New York Times]

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  1. Xyjar says:

    I frequently shop at Walmart, so I doubt I’m doing much to support American manufacturing.

  2. cynical_reincarnation says:

    I’d have a problem with this, but I hear about this happening in other countries too…

  3. Blueskylaw says:

    Here comes the sun (du du du du)
    Here comes the sun
    And I say
    Its alright

  4. Larraque eats babies says:

    “Do you make an effort to buy American products, or avoid buying stuff made in a particular country?”

    No. I look for the best quality consumer goods at a fair market value – basically, doing my research – and then buy the best for the price point. I’m not going to buy a more expensive american product just because it’s american, just like I’m not going to buy a crappy product manufactured in Taiwan just because it’s cheap.

    • Loias supports harsher punishments against corporations says:

      Is it fair market value if the government is heavily subsidizing the product?

      • alSeen says:

        Economically, yes.

        • UCLAri: Allergy Sufferer says:

          Even economists argue that subsidies are a distortion in the market. It’s not “fair.”

          However, as the consumer of said good, you are rational in buying it for the lower price.

          • Galium says:

            Name one US company that does not get a government subsidy. Tax breaks, price setting, rebates, energy points, etc are all subsidies. I do not believe you can find any company that does not get some form of a break any place in the world, unless it some third world cottage industry. They all get some kind, it is a matter of how much they get. In theory, in a communist country the companies are owned by the country so it is not really a subsidy, but re-investment.

        • Papa Bear says:

          From the individual’s point of view, it might be economically feasible, but in the bigger picture, t isn’t. One of the reasons so many countries have been gaining an economic advantage over America is the fact that they look to the big picture and focus on long-term benefits instead of short-term satisfaction.

      • Larraque eats babies says:

        I’m not sure I really understand your point. If government makes the american version of a product that I want or need cheaper, then I’ll buy it. If they make it more expensive then I’ll buy the alternative.

        • Loias supports harsher punishments against corporations says:

          See below you. When it’s subsidized it’s not really the true market value of the item. So it’s not “fair” market value. Ethically it’s not unfair, but economically it’s a distorted price.

    • YokoOhNo says:

      there isn’t much that’s fair about children making your clothes to save you a few bucks. but i guess if they hit that perfect balance between quality and price that you’re looking for than it’s fair to you.

      china has industry monopolies, that’s why we can’t compete…if only the american-hating-liberals would allow the US to operate a free market we could have monopolies too!!!

  5. keepher says:

    Yep. In my quest to buy American made products I have found that all small kitchen appliances are made in China except for one toaster.

    The thing that I consistently see that is made in American is plastic.

    • Derigiberble says:

      Kitchenaid’s stand mixers and blenders are still made entirely in the US, as are Vita-Mix and Blendtec blenders. They are all built like tanks too.

  6. hypnotik_jello says:

    And you wonder why government spending is so high – because of stupid rules like this. Sorry but protectionism and deficit reduction do not go hand in hand.

    • Murph1908 says:

      That’s a shallow look at the situation.

      The counter argument would be that the money is staying in the country, providing jobs and helping our economy, instead of funding another coutry’s economy and adding to the trade deficit.

      • alSeen says:

        What do you think they do with the dollars they get for selling items to us?

        They use them to buy our goods, or to invest in our companies. Then those dollars get used to expand our economy.

        Economics is not a zero sum game.

        • tinmanx says:

          Yes, invest back into us. Do you realize how much the US owes China? We may just be the United States of China in the very near future.

        • Papa Bear says:

          Actually, if the Chinese used their money from subsidized profits to buy our products, things would be fine. But that just is not the case. They use the money to build their own products so they do not have to buy ours. A prime example is Harley-Davidson. They tried to enter both the Chinese and Indian markets, the two largest motorcycle markets in the world by far, with the Buell Blast. It met the max displacement and HP standards and far exceeded the safety standards of both countries, yet both countries found reasons to make the venture very unprofitable. Would have meant a great deal to a now struggling American company.

          • alSeen says:

            And how do you think they use that money to build stuff? At some point those dollars are invested or spent back here. Either they are traded to another country (and maybe another and another) and eventually back to us, or they are traded back to us directly by purchasing items or services we produce, or by investing in our economy.

            • Loias supports harsher punishments against corporations says:

              No, there is no guarantee any dollar is invested back into the U.S. Dollars China earns are used as currency in their own country to pay for things there. If they are buying american products then yes the money comes back. But they don’t buy American as much as we buy Chinese.

          • jessjj347 says:

            I agree. The U.S. barely does exports, and if they do, the Chinese are certainly not buying them.

    • tinmanx says:

      If the Chinese government is subsidizing the Chinese solar panel industry, then I think this a perfectly fine law. Labor in China is already cheap, if they add on subsidies, there’s no way anyone can compete.

      • Mom says:

        Economics aside, most of the solar panels are going into forward areas. If I were relying on them to power all of my mission critical equipment in potential combat situations, I think I’d rather have something made in the USA.

        • guspaz says:

          And I’d rather have something made in Canada, but I’d buy from a foreign country like the USA if the price and product were right.

          Buying from the US doesn’t guarantee higher quality. There may be some product from another country (any other country) that offers better quality and performance for a lower pricepoint (and not necessarily because of subsidization or labour costs).

          Protectionism is bad. It’s the opposite of capitalism, and results in lessened competition, higher prices, and inferior products.

      • evnmorlo says:

        As a socialist country all industry in China is by definition government-subsidized.

  7. pop top says:

    I try to buy American when I can, especially when I’m buying food (or at least local to my area). I’m lucky to live in a town that has two local pet store chains so I shop there instead of Petco or PetSmart. It’s very hard to buy American sometimes though, since most manufacturing happens outside of the US now. Otherwise I at least try to shop at stores or buy brands that I know aren’t terrible.

    • pecan 3.14159265 says:

      I would love to support my local pet shops but I don’t think any of them carry the brand of food I buy. I support my local vet by buying the food from there. I want to buy it online but shipping it is very expensive since it’s by weight.

      • pop top says:

        I’m lucky that both of the pet stores carry the brand of food I get for my cat (Taste of the Wild) and the litter I buy her (Yesterday’s News). When I had pet rats they carried everything for them too, except the lab block that I fed them as part of their food mix. But I was able to get that at another local pet store. You should call around town and see if anyone carries it.

    • TooManyHobbies says:

      We live in a semi-rural area so we actually get out pet supplies at the local farmer’s supply. In fact, that’s its name, “Farmer’s Supply.” They also have horse and pig feed and lots of other such thing. It’s down by the railroad tracks, in a 120 year old building that reminds me so much of the old stores that I saw in farm country when I was growing up.

      They stock Diamond pet food, which we’ve been using exclusively for many years now. They have the same nutritional content as the expensive brands like Science Diet, but they’re about 1/2 the price or less. They have a wide variety available too, heck, they seem to have like a dozen or more just dog foods (puppy, adult, athlete, geriatric, a number of different flavors, special needs, etc)

  8. AustinTXProgrammer says:

    It is a factor when I am making decisions, but the weight is pretty low.

    • 339point4 says:

      Agreed. All else being equal, I’ll pick the American-made product, but it’s pretty far down my list of decision factors.

  9. alSeen says:

    I make it a policy to only buy things that are made here in Dog River. Why would I want to stifle businesses here and let those people down in Wullerton benefit.

  10. fs2k2isfun says:

    There was an article in last week’s Bloomberg Businessweek which discussed how Chinese solar companies were building factories in the US to get around such “buy American” restrictions. The panels might be made in California, but the profits go back to Chengdu.

    • El-Brucio says:

      Yeah, but it still results in local jobs, and that is a big thing. And I imagine there are American companies doing similar things in China. As long as it all evens out, that is ok I think.

    • sufreak says:

      I’d be very surprised if a chinese company can find labor and materials to make their products cheap here.

      We have labor laws, which is why products are so cheap in other Asian nations. They’ll pay a week what we pay our employees an hour.

      • fs2k2isfun says:

        The article said the cost of making and distributing the panels in the US was only about 10% more than in China. The value of the contract far outweighs the additional costs associated with US labor.

    • pecan 3.14159265 says:

      That might be true, but all of the foreign car manufacturers have factories in the US and not only does that create jobs and boost the local economy, the products are destined for the US anyway. Honda having factories in the US is a good thing, whereas Ford having factories in Mexico is something that bothers me.

    • Papa Bear says:

      The argument that profits go back to a foreign nation using America locations and labor is ridiculous. Sure, a percentage does go back, but it generates payrolls, property taxes, utility usage, transportation dollars, and on and on. Not to mention the stability factor in the community from the increased employment. If you doubt this, just go to cities like Marysville, OH and see what Honda has done for them. The benefits of foreign manufacturers using American plants and labor far outweighs any negative factors.

    • mac-phisto says:

      i have no problem with the profits ending up in a foreign nation.

      however, i do have a problem with a government contract going to a company that is not held to the same standards as its american counterpart. we often forget that the comparative advantage enjoyed by developing nations is frequently due to labor conditions that would be illegal on multiple levels here in the US.

      foreign companies erecting plants in the US to win government contracts means that american labor, safety & environmental laws are being observed. furthermore, it ensures that in the event of a war, we retain the ability to produce wartime materials.

  11. Nigerian prince looking for business partner says:

    I was under the impression the military already had rules regarding US-sourced parts and equipment. Outside of the military and law enforcement, is there any textile manufacturing left in our country? Didn’t both FN and Beretta (M16A2 and M9) open up plants in the USA just to be eligible for the contracts in the 80′s & 90′s?

    I try to buy American made products whenever possible but it’s getting harder and harder each year. You get what you pay for and I’d rather pay 10% or 15% more for a quality American made product. This is especially the case for auto parts and tools — Klein, Greenlee, Channelock, SnapOn, etc. will out last the Chinese junk at Harbor Freight but unfortunately, even these companies are starting to outsource. In terms of auto parts, can the Chinese make rotors that wont warp?

    • GoPadge says:

      Huh. My local Habor Freight has mostly Indian made tools.

    • Buckus says:

      I’m pretty sure there are strict laws on the source of goods the military uses. If the military sourced a lot of important goods from China, and then China went to war with us, we’d be a pretty bad disadvantage if, for example, we were using Chinese-made jet engines. That’s an extreme example, to be sure, but smaller things matter, too. Boots, tents, computers, etc..

    • keepher says:

      “I try to buy American made products whenever possible but it’s getting harder and harder each year. You get what you pay for and I’d rather pay 10% or 15% more for a quality American made product. This is especially the case for auto parts and tools — Klein, Greenlee, Channelock, SnapOn, etc. will out last the Chinese junk at Harbor Freight but unfortunately, even these companies are starting to outsource. In terms of auto parts, can the Chinese make rotors that wont warp?”

      Exactly. I bought GE CFL’s only to have them fail far from their statement of five years. Those products are all made in China and do not come any where close to the quality of the GE products that were produced in the US. They sent me free product coupons to replace the failed products but the question still is, how long will these last? I doubt they will have the kind of shelf life that their American made products had.

  12. kylere1 says:

    Considering the Chinese are actively fighting a trade war against us, it is nice to see us at least considering some response.

    Now, we need to slap a 100% tariff on all imports until they stop gaming their money.

    • areaman says:

      +1

      China engages in protectionism on top of neo mercantilism.

      But some of the posts here assume China is in the ring playing by the Marque of Queensbury rules and we’re not.

  13. pecan 3.14159265 says:

    It’s hard to do with clothes, but I’m more likely to buy furniture made in the US. I tend to buy second hand, so it’s hard to gauge where something came from, but if I buy brand new furniture, I try to buy US made furniture.

    I highly recommend Room and Board if anyone is looking for furniture. Most of the furniture is made in the US, and the company tells you which state it came from as well. The company is also really, really great at customer service, too. It’s really expensive, but incredible quality.

    • Nigerian prince looking for business partner says:

      We do exactly the same thing with furniture. Most of our furniture is used but we make an effort to buy American (locally if possible) when we buy new. Our current bed was made in a plant about a mile from our house.

      My wife’s car was made in Mexico but we bought it used. We’ve also contributed to our local economy by spending over $1,000 at our local garage for brakes, timing belt, and usual preventive maintenance on it.

    • RandomHookup says:

      With second hand, it doesn’t really matter where it was made because all of your money will stay in the US (unless the person selling it to you decides to send it elsewhere).

  14. sufreak says:

    If many cities and states have rules about their employees having to reside in the town/state they are employees in, it should make sense that our government should buy our products with our money to support our own economy.

  15. UCLAri: Allergy Sufferer says:

    This makes perfect sense, and given the fact that the Chinese are distorting the market through all sorts of fiscal and economic tools while we sit back and let them damage our position in the world just so we can have cheaper widgets, I say any little bit helps.

    Keep in mind, I’m all for fair trade. What China does is not fair trade.

  16. PBallRaven says:

    Good. Don’t feed the dragon folks.

  17. Brunette Bookworm says:

    I don’t really make an effort to buy products from a certain country…most of the time. When I am flush with money I try to be a more concious buyer and shop for items from more labor friendly companies.

    I don’t have any problem with this law at all. Why not have the government buy products made in the same country? It seems like it would provide a more reliable product source plus the money goes into the local economy which then goes back to the government.

  18. Papa Bear says:

    Good law, for a change. Whenever possible, I buy American products. Not necessarily those from an American owned company, but those made in America. Didn’t buy a Chevy Aveo because it was built in Korea.

    • Larraque eats babies says:

      Ha! I’ve been driving my aveo since Feb 04; I had no idea it was built in Korea.

      • Loias supports harsher punishments against corporations says:

        Should have gotten a Carfax.

      • Nigerian prince looking for business partner says:

        The Aveo is made by Daewoo in South Korea. There’s really no way a $10,000 car could be built in the USA with the legacy costs of a UAW plant.

      • Papa Bear says:

        All cars have a metal tag, usually on one of the door jams, which will tell you where the car was built.

  19. raleel says:

    I’ve recently started shopping american as much as I can. I don’t have a lot of stuff, though. I did make my wife buy our new pots and pans from an American company (Lodge… cast iron!). We do local food and shop at a coop I suppose as well.

    • pecan 3.14159265 says:

      Lodge cast iron is also one of the more affordable options out there, so that’s a double dose of awesome. I have no problem supporting a company like Le Creuset though their most or all of its products are made in France. I have a problem with my money going toward sweatshop labor, which is something I think about sometimes when I’m clothes shopping. At least the craftsmanship of a Le Creuset cast iron pot is maintained precisely because it’s manufactured in France by a French company.

      • Shield Ramrod says:

        Just FYI, Le Creuset stoneware products are made in other countries, such as Thailand. Bit of a wake up call there.

    • AnthonyC says:

      All Clad is still made in the US, too. And has a lifetime warranty.

  20. Abradax says:

    If I have a choice between American and foreign goods, my deciding factor is price.

    Perhaps the reason our government doesn’t follow this is the reason we have a 14 trillion dollar debt ceiling.

  21. shepd says:

    Good idea. Keep the toxic manufacturing processes local, rather than exporting them.

    You all know just how much toxic waste water and horrible chemicals people are exposed to making these things, right? At least here we can keep people from killing themselves over making the panels.

  22. Parsnip says:

    My husband and I prefer to buy American, but sometimes, it’s just not cost-effective to do so. This past weekend, we decided to finally get rid of our old, mismatched college furniture, and get decent looking stuff. The couch, coffee and end table set and chest of drawers were all American-Made, and decently priced. I think we paid around 1400 for all of them. But we couldn’t find a bookshelf and entertainment center that we both liked and was decently priced outside of Ikea, both of which were made in China.

    • pecan 3.14159265 says:

      Agreed. We could have spent $200 less to get a couch made somewhere outside the US, but the extra money spent (and it was a somewhat agonizing decision to fork over that much!) was worth it because we know our couch is of higher quality.

  23. Rachacha says:

    This is nothing new. Government employees when traveling are required to fly on US carriers whenever possible except in extreme circumstances , and many contracts with US General Services Administration (GSA) require that the product be a US company unless it can be demonstrated that the foreign manufactured product is somehow vastly superior.

    • Nigerian prince looking for business partner says:

      Many states have similar policies. Certain states, especially for transportation projects, require bidding companies to setup local offices, source in-state supplies, and promise to hire a certain amount of local labor.

      Without these rules, states with a higher cost-of-living or certain types of business taxes, can actually put in-state firms at a disadvantage when competing for local projects.

  24. ctcatfur says:

    I try to buy American, but usually research to get the best value (price and quality) for what I am looking for. It would be nice if American products met that criteria all the time but they don’t.

    I kind of look at it like the American cars of the 80′s. Everyone was screaming to be a patriot and buy American cars, but the carmakers could not be patriotic enough to build something that wasn’t crap. I drove a Toyota with pleasure at the time.

  25. YokoOhNo says:

    I don’t know why there has to be a law…we should be getting the best price. I don’t care if they have to lower the legal working age to 6 in chine, i want the best prices.

    low price = good
    low price = good
    low price = good
    low price = good
    low price = good
    low price = good

    When will we learn that MONEY is all that matters!?!?

  26. Buckus says:

    I Can’t Not avoid buying products made in China. For one thing, my wife is Chinese. But also, just about everything is made in China or Taiwan or Japan, but mostly China.

  27. quail says:

    It’s hard anymore to buy anything that is made in America.

    But I do think the government should make a concerted effort to do just that. In the 90s everyone was worried about costs and laws were passed that allowed the military and government agencies to just buy the cheapest thing they can. This meant buying foreign made in most cases. It still had to meet Gov. specs but still…

    Now in 2011 I’ll bet it’s hard for the Gov. to find local manufacturers of certain products.

  28. Scamazon says:

    Not to worry, its just like all US companies, they will just find a way to get around the hurdle, bring the panels to the U.S. and have their U.S. employees apply the made in the USA stickers. Its all an illusion…

  29. Galium says:

    And we get F-16 parts from x-country, tank parts from y-country & missile parts from z-country. But like China, they are our best friends, wink, wink. The new logo for American products should be assembled in the USA. There are very few companies that could say that they make a product that has all its parts made in this country.

  30. TooManyHobbies says:

    So, I need to set up an American company that buys cheap Chinese solar cells and assembles them into frames to make solar panels. But someone’s probably already doing that.

  31. TooManyHobbies says:

    If they really don’t like artificial subsidies, they need to stop subsidizing corn ethanol, and let gas go up to $5/gal too like it naturally would be.

  32. eligiblebachelor says:

    Actually as Bloomberg Business Week pointed out in their Jan 3-9 issue in “Chinese Plants Grow on U.S. Turf” companies like “China’s Suntech Power Holdings” have been building plants on U.S. soil so they can be “in compliance with Buy American requirements in some government contracts”.

    So this proposed contract language will just require Chinese and other Solar companies to have a factory on U.S. soil to capture those billion dollar contracts.

  33. Shmoodog says:

    Good. About time the U.S. stood up in our fight with China. They have won every round so far. And there are plenty of American makers of solar equipment to give a buck to.

  34. lukemarrott says:

    I prefer to buy American when I can. But sometimes I sort through my options to see if there is a US choice, even for a different price, and I can’t find one.

  35. Cagey says:

    Yes, I’m mindful of the stuff I buy: who makes it and where it is made. I like to buy American, union-made stuff when possible. I don’t have issues when the U.S. government mandates purchases from the same, especially in a strategic industry like new energy production. Anything to help move us from an economy based on shuffling paper and schlock to one based on high-value manufactures.

  36. Red Cat Linux says:

    I’m not about to go out and get a tinfoil hat or anything, but after the pet food poisoning a few years ago killed one of my cats, and then the same issue killed babies in China, I don’t want any food substances from there for me or my pets. They seem to not give a crap, in general, about safety in product manufacturing.

    The sad thing is how do you know where a manufacturer gets it’s materials, really?

  37. Ayanami says:

    I avoid it, too many experiences with crappy things.

  38. Robert Nagel says:

    This way, instead of paying too much for Chinese solar panels we can pay way too much for American ones.

  39. FrugalFreak says:

    +1 for returning purchasing BACK to the USA!

  40. pot_roast says:

    Yes, I try to avoid buying products made in China whenever it’s possible. Sometimes this is easy to do, other times it is not. Obviously it depends on what you’re buying.

  41. DustingWhale says:

    Hahahahahahahahahahahahaha. President Bush was considering a French made helicopter to replace the American one, wish he had heard of this concept.