One thing heads of state and diplomats like to do on trips abroad is announce agreements, and it looks like the one U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton will tout in South Africa on Tuesday could be a big boost to U.S. clean energy companies.
U.S. Export-Import Bank President Fred Hochberg said on Monday that the countries would sign a deal “for $2 billion for renewable energy exports from the U.S. to South Africa.”
Details of the agreement weren’t yet available, but the mere fact of it highlights the role the Export-Import Bank is playing in developing the U.S. clean energy sector – particularly with support for homegrown development under constant political siege.
Take wind energy. With the uncertain future of the production tax credit, American manufacturing plants are already feeling the pinch as developers hold off on projects for fear the key subsidy won’t be in place after December 31. In early July, Gamesa said it would temporarily lay off 165 workers at its nacelle and rotor blade plants in Pennsylvania.
Into that breach, the Ex-Im last week announced $32.1 million in financing to Wind Power Energia of Brazil, which will use the money to buy wind turbine blades made by LM Wind Power Blades at its factories in Little Rock, Ark., and Grand Forks, N.D. The company claims the deal will support 250 permanent jobs in the U.S.
It will be interesting to see if the South Africa deal includes more wind power business for U.S. factories. South Africa is desperately in need of more electricity, and is pursuing a wide range of generating platforms. Last November, the World Bank announced support for two 100-megawatt renewable energy projects in South Africa – one solar, the other wind – with a $250 million loan to the national utility Eskom. South Africa is also studying the feasibility of building a massive, 5-gigawatt solar park in the Northern Cape region of the country, an area with intense solar radiation potential.
Solar has been a major focus of Export-Import Bank activities, with India the target country for the bulk of the financing deals.