Elections

Is global trade ‘outsourcing’ solar jobs? McCready company’s investments draw GOP fire

Solar investments by a company co-owned by Democrat Dan McCready are drawing fire from Republicans, who accuse him of “sending jobs to China” and even exposing America to national security threats.

McCready, running in the 9th Congressional district, calls the accusations false and misleading.

The issues first raised in a Fox News article last month illustrate the complexities of navigating a global economy at a time of escalating trade disputes and security concerns. They’ve widened into a debate involving McCready’s 9th District opponent, two GOP campaign groups and lawyers on both sides.

“To say that my company is outsourcing jobs is to say that any homeowner who has a microwave made in China is outsourcing jobs or anybody who talks on an iPhone is outsourcing jobs to China,” McCready told the Observer Thursday.

He faces Republican state Sen. Dan Bishop in the Sept. 10 special election in the district that runs from Charlotte to Bladen County. Bishop and his allies have blasted McCready over the Fox News story.

“Fox News busts ‘Wrong’ Dan McCready for lying about protecting American jobs,” Bishop wrote on Facebook. “‘Wrong Dan’ claimed to support Donald J. Trump’s plan to get tough on China at the same time ‘Wrong Dan’s’ company funded the outsourcing (of) North Carolina jobs to China.”

At issue are investments made by Double Time Capital, a company started by McCready and partner Rye Barcott in 2013. In three years it raised $80 million from investors such as former Bank of America CEO Hugh McColl Jr., and the late Duke Energy CEO Jim Rogers.

The company invested in 36 North Carolina solar projects, according to the Charlotte Business Journal. Of those, 11 were owned by Durham-based Strata Solar, Brian O’Hara, a Strata vice president, told the Observer.

Strata is the largest solar company based in North Carolina, a state second only to California in solar capacity. McCready’s company made no investments in Strata itself.

Fox News reported that Strata bought Chinese solar panels, something the N.C. company itself acknowledged in a 2013 news release.

At the time American solar companies bought more than half of their solar imports — nearly $3 billion worth — from China, according to the Solar Energy Industries Association. Anti-dumping duties imposed in 2014 reduced China’s share to 11% of U.S. solar imports by 2017.

“Strata, along with every other solar developer and solar company in the U.S., operate in the global supply chain,” said O’Hara. “Strata has certainly not outsourced jobs. All of the jobs we’ve created are in the U.S.”

Peter Ledford, general counsel of the N.C. Sustainable Energy Association, said it was not uncommon for solar developers to buy panels from China.

“The vast majority of solar panels are made in China,” he said. “It’s not surprising to me that a solar developer would use panels manufactured there.”

Huawei deal

As Fox reported, Strata bought string inverters from Huawei, the Chinese tech giant. Those are devices that convert solar energy into the alternating current used in electric grids. Strata began buying Huawei inverters in 2016.

The U.S. government has long suspected Huawei of being a vehicle for espionage by the Chinese government. When a bipartisan group of senators asked for a ban on Huawei inverters this year, O’Hara said Strata stopped dealing with the company.

“No government regulator has ever questioned the safety, security or reliability of any Strata solar project,” O’Hara said.

O’Hara said none of the projects in which Double Time invested have Huawei inverters. Double Time attorney John Wester said McCready’s company invested in three Strata projects in 2014 and 2015, a year before Strata made the deal with Huawei.

Wester has demanded a retraction from Fox News as well as the National Republican Congressional Committee and the Congressional Leadership Fund, a GOP super PAC, for repeating the claims that he said are “demonstrably false.”

In response, attorney Chris Ashby wrote that the NRCC will not be “bullied into silence.”

“The money flow is clear,” Ashby wrote. “China Dan founded Double Time. Double Time put money into Strata Solar projects. Strata Solar bought parts for years from multiple Chinese companies, including eventually Huawei, which the FBI regards as a ‘dual threat to both our economic and national security.’”

‘Standing up to China’

Ever since he started running for the seat in the 2018 election, McCready has consistently given Trump credit for taking a tough stand on trade with China.

“I support standing up to China on trade,” he said Thursday. “President Trump has started an important conversation. . . . His objective is to level the playing field. Trade aside, they’re also stealing intellectual property.”

Rather than export jobs, McCready said, he has helped create jobs in North Carolina. Strata alone has a staff of more than 400 across the country, O’Hara said. McCready called his company’s investments “a big success story for our state,” saying 700 jobs have been created in North Carolina.

Calvin Moore, a spokesman for the Congressional Leadership Fund, said, “The only thing worse than Dan McCready sending jobs to China and putting our national security at risk is that he refuses to tell the truth about it.”

Said McCready: “Its desperate that they’re having to sink to this level. The people of North Carolina know better.”

Jim Morrill, who grew up near Chicago, covers state and local politics. He’s worked at the Observer since 1981 and taught courses on North Carolina politics at UNC Charlotte and Davidson College.
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