Southeast sees consumer savings, jobs from wind energy, but PTC extension needed

Louisiana recently became the latest state in the southeastern U.S.–a region not known for its wind resources–to benefit from the clean energy resource, as the state’s Public Service Commission (PSC) gave the green light to a proposed 20-year contract by Southwestern Electric Power Co. (SWEPCO) of Shreveport, La., to buy 31 megawatts (MW) of wind power generation from a Kansas wind farm.

Public Service Commissioner Foster Campbell was quoted in press reports as saying the wind turbines purchase, from the Flat Ridge 2 wind farm in southeastern Kansas, will save consumers money. Commented Campbell, "Considering that renewable energy has historically cost more than power from conventional sources, this new SWEPCO wind energy purchase is a notable achievement for the company and for the Louisiana PSC."

The Louisiana decision came just four months after the Alabama Public Service Commission voted to approve a long-term purchase by Alabama Power Co. of wind power from another wind turbines facility in Kansas. The Alabama Public Service Commission reviewed this purchase and commented, "Specifically, the delivered price of energy from the wind turbines facility is expected to be lower than the cost the Company would incur to produce that energy from its own resource (i.e. below the Company’s avoided costs), with the resulting energy savings flowing directly to the Company’s customers." The full Commission report is here.

The federal Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) has been active on the wind power front as well. As of December, TVA had entered into nine contracts with eight wind farms in Iowa, Illinois, South Dakota and Kansas for the purchase of 1,565 MW of wind power (enough to power the equivalent of more than 400,000 average American homes).

While it’s increasingly clear that consumers in the southeastern U.S. stand to benefit from wind power through lower-cost electricity, there’s another major plus for the region in an expanding wind industry: manufacturing jobs. With most activity happening since 2005, the wind industry now has 400+ manufacturing facilities in the U.S., with 20,000 American manufacturing jobs across its supply chain, and many of those jobs are in the Southeast. For a good example of what’s been happening with wind manufacturing in one state, see "The growing wind industry in South Carolina," June 23, 2011.

The Southeast’s growing prominence in the wind power supply chain will be a major focus of the WINDPOWER 2012 Conference & Exhibition, scheduled for June 3-6 in Atlanta, Ga. Atlanta is a manufacturing hub, and holds tremendous potential to play a major role in the further expansion of wind development as a source of competitive energy for America. Atlanta’s global access, innovation, and talent create an unparalleled logistics network that could prove to be an important link in the wind industry supply chain, helping to supply demand and boost the efficiency, predictability, and consistency of wind project development in the U.S.

In short, it’s becoming evident that wind, which offers clean, homegrown, affordable energy, can supply significant economic benefits even in a relatively wind-poor region. As we have noted here on many occasions, however, wind power’s American manufacturing jobs success story faces the prospect of serious disruption if its existing federal tax incentive, the Production Tax Credit (PTC), is not extended as rapidly as possible by Congress. For the Southeast as well as other parts of the country now benefiting from wind power’s influx of new manufacturing jobs, action on the PTC extension is needed now.

Tom Gray,