Last week I had the privilege of visiting one of the largest wind farms in the world – a project at the forefront of America’s energy economy. Along with clean, renewable energy, Oregon’s Caithness Shepherds Flat wind farm is creating jobs and revenue for the region.
Turbines at Shepherds Flat officially began generating energy last fall, and the project is able to create up to 845 megawatts of emission-free wind power (enough electricity to power nearly 260,000 homes). This $2.3 billion project was supported by a $1.3 billion partial loan guarantee from the Energy Department in 2010, and directly created 400 construction jobs and 45 permanent operating jobs for this community in north central Oregon. All while still allowing ranchers to use the surrounding land just as they have for generations.
Shepherds Flat is producing power and the revenue to pay back its loan. It is a perfect example of how the public and private sector can work together to bring safe, clean, reliable energy to market. One of the aims of the Energy Department’s loan guarantee program was to bring private capital in off the sideline, and in this case that includes $1.3 billion in commercial debt, $693 million in equity from companies like Google and GE, and $226 million in letters of credit.
As clean energy technologies become increasingly important for the global economy, it’s more important than ever that the U.S. continue playing to win. Projects like Shepherds Flat are getting built and are providing jobs and clean energy to Americans all across the country. The recent extension of the Production Tax Credit (PTC) is also helping the wind industry continue to surge forward. President Obama fought hard to secure an extension of the PTC, legislation that’s helping make 2013 another great year for wind energy and the economy. Now, instead of layoffs, we’re hearing stories from American wind companies that are retaining and re-hiring workers instead of moving business overseas.
Last year was the best yet for the U.S. wind industry. More than 13,000 MW of power were installed and, in the fourth quarter alone, more than 8,000 MW were deployed – an all-time record for the industry and twice as much wind as the previous record set in the fourth quarter 2009. Today, the U.S. has more than 45,000 wind turbines, providing enough electricity to power 14.7 million homes – roughly equivalent to the number of homes in Colorado, Iowa, Maryland, Michigan, Nevada and Ohio combined.
Given this success, some might ask if it’s necessary to keep investing in wind energy through such tools as the Production Tax Credit. Here it is important to recognize that, while the wind industry is coming on strong, its capital costs are still relatively high compared to more traditional sources of energy; we must continue to find ways to level the playing field in capital markets so renewable energy projects can obtain capital at reasonable market-based rates. In addition, intense competition for leadership in manufacturing for that industry continues from countries in Europe and China. With the benefit of the loan guarantee program and PTC tax credit, we have made serious progress regaining our manufacturing base. In 2005 we had to import 70 percent of the components for a wind turbine from overseas, whereas today we are able to supply 70 percent of our parts domestically. That means advanced manufacturing and the jobs that go with it are coming home. With foreign governments continuing to subsidize the competition, now would be the wrong time to abandon our support for this nascent industry.
It comes down to a basic choice: We can either sit by and let the energy technologies of tomorrow be produced by our foreign competitors, or we can continue investing in projects like Shepherds Flat, which together support tens of thousands of jobs nationally and have helped double U.S. renewable electricity generation in the past four years. The President spoke directly to this issue in his recent inaugural address: “We cannot cede to other nations the technology that will power new jobs and new industries – we must claim its promise. That is how we will maintain our economic vitality and our national treasure – our forests and waterways; our croplands and snowcapped peaks. “
It was good to see that promised fulfilled in the high desert of Oregon.