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Jon Greenberg
By Jon Greenberg October 11, 2012

Ryan says stimulus dollars paid for electric cars in Finland and windmills from China

In the vice presidential debate, Paul Ryan and Joe Biden argued whether the stimulus was worth the hundreds of billions of dollars that it cost the government.

Ryan said, "Look at just the $90 billion in stimulus. The vice president was in charge of overseeing this. Ninety billion in green pork to campaign contributors and special interest groups."

Biden responded with, "It was a good idea, Moody's and others said that this was exactly what we needed to stop this from going off the cliff. It set the conditions to be able to grow again."

They argued about whether the stimulus money was wasted, and Ryan said "Was it a good idea to spend taxpayer dollars on electric cars in Finland, or on windmills in China?"

Republicans have made these charges before. In this fact-check, we look at whether the stimulus money went where Ryan said it did.

The Fisker electric car

In 2009, an American car company, Fisker Automotive, won a total of $528 million in loan guarantees to build two high-end electric hybrids, the Karma and the Atlantic. The ultimate goal was to build the Atlantic at a defunct auto plant in Delaware. Work on it is currently on hold, and the Delaware plant has yet to open.

The engineering and design for the Karma was done in the United States, but according to the U.S. Energy Department, the plan from the beginning was to build the cars in Finland. Fisker Automotive told ABC News this work employed about 500 Finnish workers. Company spokesman Roger Ornisher told PolitiFact that the plant has produced over 1,500 Karmas so far.

Not stimulus dollars

The claim about American stimulus dollars paying for jobs in Finland is flawed in several important respects.

First, the money did not come from the stimulus. This nuance seems to slip through the cracks again and again, so the correct information bears repeating.

That money came as a loan -- not a grant or a tax credit -- through the Energy Department’s Advanced Technology Vehicles Manufacturing program. That program predates the Obama administration. It was not part of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, also known as the stimulus. In fact, it’s a program signed into existence by President George W. Bush in 2007 and first funded by legislation Bush signed in 2008.

The only reference to this loan program in the stimulus is that it received $10 million for administrative expenses.

The Bush administration was in charge when Fisker Automotive filed its application. The Obama administration was in charge when the company’s loan was approved. The stimulus bill had nothing to do with it.

Fisker Automotive says that the accounting firm of PricewaterhouseCoopers audits its accounts to insure that all federal dollars are spent in the United States.

Windmills in China

Windmills from China have something of a history when it comes to political messaging.  The Romney campaign sent us supporting documents for this claim. Among the reports and articles the campaign cites, one refers to a massive project in Texas that was never built and will never receive stimulus money. Others stem from the Investigative Reporting Workshop, a nonprofit journalism project at American University.

The Investigative Reporting Workshop’s report backs the claim but paints a murkier picture than the Romney campaign would have you think. The author tallied $2.6 million in stimulus money going to Chinese makers of wind turbines. However, the reporter, Russ Choma, also says that none of the farms used turbines entirely built in China. Additionally, he couldn’t say for sure how much stimulus money made its way to China. "Some money definitely did, but it is safe to say more money went to creating jobs in the U.S. and Europe," he wrote.

A challenging money trail

Federal support for renewable energy projects came through the 1603 tax credit program. So far, this program has paid out about $7.6 billion to wind farms nationwide. Once a project is on line and delivering power, that program pays money to the project developer -- as much as 30 percent of the project cost. Along the way, the developer pays the companies that provided the materials. Following the money becomes complicated because wind turbines are about as intricate as airplanes.

To choose an example, let’s look at a wind farm going up in Alaska. The lead contractor is General Electric, the world’s third largest supplier of wind turbines and an American firm. But according to the Anchorage Daily News, "The blades are made in Brazil, the units that contain the generator come from Southern California, the connecting hubs from the Florida Panhandle and the towers are made in China."

We called the American Wind Energy Association, an industry trade group, to see if they knew of any Chinese turbines paid for with American stimulus dollars. They said they did. Their best guess is the number is six -- five in Texas and one in Iowa. But "that might not be exactly right," said Liz Salerno, director of industry data and analysis . "Because some of the blades and towers in Texas might have come from American firms."

If it is six, that represents a tiny fraction of all the turbines installed with stimulus dollars. Salerno says the program funded more than 12,000 turbine installations over three years. Chinese components might have shown up in various places, but if one is counting complete Chinese "windmills," then they account for less than 1 percent of the total.

Our ruling

Paul Ryan said stimulus dollars were spent on electric cars in Finland and windmills in China.

In fact, the program that provided loan guarantees for the Fisker cars was not part of the stimulus -- and the money went toward engineering and design in the United States.

As for the windmills in China, it's true that a small number of windmills and components to build them came from China. But the statement greatly exaggerates China’s role in the overall use of stimulus money.

On balance, we rate the claim Mostly False.

Featured Fact-check

Our Sources, Stimulus Jobs In China?, October 29, 2010

Investigative Reporting Workshop, Workshop's Wind Stories Kicking Up Political Dust, September 27, 2010

ABC News, New Wind Farms In The U.S. Do Not Bring Jobs, February 9, 2010

The Washington Post, Obama’s Record On Outsourcing Draws Criticism From The Left , June 9, 2012

Anchorage Daily News, Turbines Rising at Fire Island, Wind Farm July 19, 2012

Reuters, U.S. Renewable Energy Group, China’s Shenyang Power Group, and Cielo Wind Power to Develop a 600MW Wind Farm in Texas, October 29, 2009

Investigative Reporting Workshop, Powerful Democrats help Chinese energy firm chase stimulus money December 10, 2010

PolitiFact, Ad says stimulus tax credits funded jobs in Finland, May 3, 2012

Congressional Research Service, Energy Provisions in the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, March 12, 2009

US Department of Energy, Alternative Fuels Data Center: ARRA

Department of Energy, US Energy Secretary Chu Announces $528 Million Loan for Advanced Vehicle Technology for Fisker Automotive, September 22, 2009

Interview with Fisker Automotive spokesman Roger Ormisher, July 18, 2012

ABC News, "Car Company Gets U.S. Loan, Builds Cars In Finland," Oct. 20, 2011

Fisker Automotive, "Press Releases: Fisker Statement re: Misleading News Reports," Oct. 21, 2011

Federal Register, "Advanced Technology Vehicles Manufacturing Incentive Program," Nov. 12, 2008

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Ryan says stimulus dollars paid for electric cars in Finland and windmills from China

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