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Obama uses weekly address to lobby for Isaraeli firm brightsource

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By Ali Abunimah

(source: Ali Abunimah’s Blog – Posterous)

In his Weekly Address President Barack Obama had glowing words for a company called BrightSource and how a subsidized loan program established by his administration is helping BrightSource to create US jobs:

I want to share with you one new development, made possible by the clean energy incentives we have launched. This month, in the Mojave Desert, a company called BrightSource plans to break ground on a revolutionary new type of solar power plant. It’s going to put about a thousand people to work building a state-of-the-art facility. And when it’s complete, it will turn sunlight into the energy that will power up to 140,000 homes — the largest such plant in the world. Not in China. Not in India. But in California.

While the project — supported by the US government will apparently create jobs in the US (it sounds like they are mostly temporary construction jobs) — Obama did not disclose that BrightSource has its roots and main facilities in Israel, and as well as creating jobs in California, the US government might be directly subsidizing jobs in, and technology transfer to Israel.

A story last March on the website Israel21c Israel Innovation News boasted “BrightSource gets a billion” and noted, “With over $1 b. in US government loans, Israel’s BrightSource will build the world’s largest solar energy project in California, doubling the solar thermal electricity produced in the US today.”

The company, the story says, “maintains its headquarters in the US and runs an Israeli subsidiary based in Jerusalem, where its R&D is centered.” It is indeed clear that the center of BrightSource’s technological development and main activities to date is not in the Untied States, but Israel.

BrightSource does have many US-based and international investors including, BP, Morgan Stanley, Chevron, StatOil, and was formed with seed capital from VantagePoint Venture Partners.

According to BrightSource’s own website, both BrightSource Energy Inc. and BrightSource Industries (Israel), Ltd. were founded by Arnold J. Goldman. Goldman was also the founder and CEO of Israeli firm Luz International Ltd.

Indeed, BrightSource seems to be little more than a rebranding of Luz. As the BrightSource website explains: “In 2006, LUZ II joined a world-class finance and development team and became a wholly-owned subsidiary of BrightSource Energy. In December 2008, Luz II changed its name to BrightSource Industries (Israel), Ltd. (BSII).”

According to a promotional video from Israel21c, all the development work has been done at a full-scale solar site in Rotem Industrial Park in the Negev desert near Israel’s Dimona nuclear facility. This solar array, according to Goldman, who is seen in the video, is the prototype for the very project that Obama is touting in California’s Mojave Desert.

Indeed, there are more jobs currently advertised on the company website that are based in Jerusalem (13) than in the United States (4). Will thesubsidized loans supplied by the Obama administration go to support more high-tech Israeli jobs and Israeli research and development while creating jobs in the US that are mostly lower-skilled and temporary? President Obama did not say.

BrightSource founder Arnold Goldman was born in the United States and emigrated to Israel where he recently received a “Builder of Jerusalem Award” from the extreme Zionist and pro-settlement organization Aish HaTorah. Aish HaTorah, incidentally is the organization that runs the Hasbara Fellowships along with the Israeli foreign ministry.

Goldman himself began his career designing electronic circuitry for Minuteman interncontinental ballistic nuclear missiles and worked for other military contractors. He founded a successful firm, Lexitron, in the 1970s which he later sold to military contractor Raytheon. Goldman is a Founding Member of the International Board of Governors of the Jerusalem College of Technology (JCT) which boasts that it is “Vital to the State of Israel & the IDF” and that:

During the recent conflict with Hezbollah, JCT’s graduates and students comprised a strong and sizable percentage of the IDF’s officers involved in directing the technology-based air and ground war, especially in the critical areas of military intelligence, communications, and reconnaissance. JCT is known particularly for its expertise in the fields of electro-optics and is the leading provider of specialists and engineers in this area to Israel’s defense forces and industry.

BrightSource Energy appears to be another example of the attempt to “greenwash” Israel — just like BetterPlace. While BrightSource may indeed have come up with useful solar technologies, Israeli firms hardly work on a level playing field. They clearly have high-level access to the US government as well as US funding, and benefit from the hugely US-subsidized Israeli research and development infrastructure which is inextricably tied with Israel’s military.

BrightSource is testing its technologies at the Rotem Industrial Park, which the JTA reported on a year ago:

“We definitely leverage a lot of know-how in a variety of disciplines — including materials, chemistry, thermal dynamics — accumulated from our experience with military and homeland security technology for developing renewable energy technologies,” said Meni Maor, vice president of  business development for Rotem, a  Dimona-based company that commercializes technologies first used in Israel’s defense industry.

The company is something of a case study on the subject. In the past three years, Rotem has begun to focus on renewable energy technology with projects on solar and hydrogen power, wind energy and bio-fuel.

BrightSource Energy, which is developing the world’s largest solar thermal plant in Southern California, is piloting its technology at Rotem.

In his Weekly Address, Obama accused Republicans of wanting to shut down programs like the one that is providing a billion dollars to BrightSource, with potentially disastrous results:

This doesn’t make sense for our economy. It doesn’t make sense for Americans who are looking for jobs. And it doesn’t make sense for our future. To go backwards and scrap these plans means handing the competitive edge to China and other nations. It means that we’ll grow even more dependent on foreign oil.  And, at a time of economic hardship, it means forgoing jobs we desperately need. In fact, shutting down just this one project would cost about a thousand jobs. That’s what’s at stake in this debate. … And we can spur innovation and help make our economy more competitive. We know the choice that’s right for America. We need to do what we’ve always done – put our ingenuity and can do spirit to work to fight for a brighter future.

But in light of the fact that BrightSource is effectively based in Israel — and that’s where all the R&D happens — the president’s claim to be supporting ‘American innovation’ is at best disingenuous. Obama is scaring Americans about “handing the competitive edge to China” while quietly giving it to Israel.