Job generation and wind projects

Commentary by Bruce Kellison

When only 15% of the 2800 new jobs created by a huge $1.5 billion West Texas wind farm development will be based in the U.S., something is wrong, especially because U.S. taxpayers may provide $450 million of the project’s costs via the federal stimulus program. That’s a taxpayer investment of over $1 million per U.S. job, and while there are plenty of other excellent economic and public health reasons to make investments in alternative energy projects, stimulus money is designed to stimulate job creation. A Chinese turbine manufacturer will license technology from General Electric and from German and Dutch wind firms, but the 240 turbines to be installed on the West Texas wind farm will be built in China (no word yet on where the blades and towers will be made). The reason? Majority financing for the enormous project is being provided by the Export-Import Bank of China. Frozen U.S. credit markets, together with low natural gas prices, have slowed development of new wind projects in Texas, Kansas, and Arkansas this year, but the global downturn has not prevented the Chinese government from expanding its support for Chinese wind and solar energy manufacturers.

If the U.S. is to develop “green jobs” and reduce its current reliance on coal-fired electric power generation, it must work harder to develop the entire alternative energy pipeline, including R&D for technology development, worker training programs in 2-year degree programs, tax policies that incentivize onshore manufacturing, and national renewable portfolio standards for utilities.

In West Texas, lower project development costs using Chinese-built turbines may mean a quicker path to profit for the wind developers and a lower cost per kilowatt of the electricity the project generates, making this alternative energy project that much more competitive with fossil-fuel-generated power in Texas. But public investment in green jobs now, coupled with Texas’ lead in generation capacity and the presence of turbine manufacturers like TECO-Westinghouse in Round Rock, could bring thousands of new manufacturing jobs to Texas instead of northeastern China.

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