By Tom Kiernan
March 7, 2016 at 5:00 am ET
Many Americans feel we’re operating in an overly polarized political atmosphere, where it’s nearly impossible to get anything done that is perceived to benefit one side over another.
It’s unfortunate that job creation, economic stimulation and clean energy growth sometimes get caught in this gridlock. However, there are critical steps we can take to ensure a better energy future for all Americans, regardless of political leanings.
Modernizing America’s poorly functioning electric grid is one of them.
The United States is blessed with tremendous wind resources. Last year, wind power was the largest source of new electric capacity in the U.S., with enough coming online in 2015 alone to power 2.3 million homes. In all, there’s now enough installed wind energy capacity to produce electricity for 19 million American homes.
In order to deliver more low-cost, clean electricity generated by U.S. wind farms, we need to build infrastructure capable of delivering that energy to the most densely populated U.S. cities and towns, where it’s needed the most.
After nearly six years of review, the Department of Energy (DOE) now has the opportunity to approve a private-public partnership that would build new infrastructure and provide jobs to thousands of Americans, while moving the needle for low-cost clean energy – the Plains & Eastern Clean Line.
This multi-state project has received strong bi-partisan support from leaders as diverse as Oklahoma’s Governor Mary Fallin and Tennessee Congressman Steve Cohen.
Upon completion, this undertaking, and the new wind farms it will enable, will be the largest clean energy project in U.S. history.
The privately financed Plains & Eastern Clean Line, which seeks no federal loan guarantees or financial support, will further expand clean energy markets. It will clear the way for billions of dollars in new renewable energy projects in the Oklahoma Panhandle region that could not otherwise be built because of the limitations of the existing electric transmission grid.
Sediver, an international manufacturer of the insulators used on transmission lines, has already broken ground on a new factory in Arkansas that will create many new jobs to support the project. In Oklahoma, Pelco Structural will manufacture the tubular steel structures for the project, supporting about 100 American jobs.
On top of the manufacturing jobs, the Plains & Eastern Clean Line will create thousands of American jobs constructing, maintaining and operating wind farms and the transmission line. In fact, wind turbine technician is already the fastest growing job in the U.S. according to the Department of Labor.
Farmers and ranchers that grant wind leases for new wind farms and easements for the new transmission structures will stand to gain another source of income, with such payments acting as a drought-resistant cash crop. Communities will receive millions more in taxes and other payments to support schools, fix roads and improve health care facilities, while consumers will get a new source of affordable energy. All of this will spur economic growth.
The potential progress of our renewable energy sector depends in large part on whether projects like Plains & Eastern Clean Line receive the federal approval needed to move forward. American consumers and workers cannot wait any longer. It is time for DOE to act and show that America can still build a bettertomorrow. There’s nothing partisan about supporting jobs, improving infrastructure and driving economic growth.
Tom Kiernan is the CEO of the American Wind Energy Association