Cantwell Touts Wind Power
by Erik Robinson
The Columbian, February 19, 2008
Wind turbines sprouting on the east side of the Cascades
now accounts for roughly 2,000 megawatts of energy
The Pacific Northwest, which long ago harnessed the power of falling water, now stands on the cusp of a new boom in another kind of renewable energy, U.S. Sen. Maria Cantwell said during a visit to the Port of Vancouver on Monday.
"The opportunities for wind are limitless," said Cantwell, D-Wash. "It is really about how much we want to invest in this."
That investment starts, she said, by extending a federal tax credit considered to be crucial for investors to continue pouring money into wind energy farms. In the Northwest, a proliferation of wind turbines sprouting on the east side of the Cascades has grown twentyfold in the past decade and now accounts for roughly 2,000 megawatts of energy - about the size of two Bonneville Dams.
Many of those turbines are shipped through the Port of Vancouver.
In 2007, the port handled 305 complete turbines plus another 120 towers manufactured in China and Vietnam. Each of those massive turbines provides a steady flow of work for longshoremen at the Port of Vancouver, but a representative of turbine manufacturer Vestas said many more local jobs are possible if rising demand requires it.
The Vestas representative said his company sees the possibility of Northwest wind energy quadrupling.
The company's plans for a Portland-area turbine factory employing 1,000 people fizzled in 2003, but Roby Roberts, vice president for government relations for Vestas' Portland-based American operation, described a couple of new factors that could revive those plans.
First, the turbines are getting increasingly large.
Already, some of the tower components being trucked out of the Port of Vancouver nearly reach through two intersections when encountering a red light on Mill Plain Boulevard.
Second, Roberts said, the declining value of the dollar is making U.S. manufacturing more competitive with existing lower-wage factories in Asia. If demand continues to grow in the Northwest, he said, it makes more sense logistically to build the turbines here.
"We're finding, increasingly, we need to put more manufacturing where the projects are," Roberts said.
Yet the wind industry's future remains uncertain.
Wind is easily the biggest potential source of renewable energy, but it still accounts for scarcely 1 percent of American energy supply. Now several years into the current boom, wind remains something of a fledgling industry still reliant on help from the federal tax code.
The production tax credit, due to expire this year without congressional action, provides 1.8 cents for every kilowatt-hour of energy generated. That nudge is enough to entice investors to install wind towers rather than, say, natural gas or coal-fired power plants.
Roberts credited Cantwell for championing a tax credit that merely puts wind on equal footing with tax support for oil and other energy industries.
"Senator Cantwell has absolutely been a tiger for our issue," he said.
Cantwell's bid to include an extension of the production tax credit in the recent economic stimulus package fell short by one vote. The senator said she's planning to take another run at it, with the idea of using a two-year extension to shift the industry's growth into overdrive.
"We have so much demand now, we could actually have manufacturing in the United States, but people won't build facilities if they don't know what the predictability is going to be in the tax code," Cantwell said.
Cantwell is not the only Northwest lawmaker promoting renewable energy. U.S. Rep. Brian Baird, D-Vancouver, is scheduled to spend today visiting workers, residents and students involved in a variety of green projects.
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