Governor Sam Brownback: Wind Energy Offers Clean Path to Economic Growth

The moment is approaching when our nation must decide how it’s going to power the future. The importance of renewable energy to the nation becomes clear as Congress turns its attention to energy policy this fall, as we examine the importance of true energy independence and security more closely, and as we continue our work on rebuilding the economy and job creation.

Experience has taught us that investments in the renewable energy economy is creating jobs across all employment sectors, including construction, engineering, operations, technology and professional services, in both rural and urban communities.

Greater use of renewable energy also will allow the country to prolong its current power generation resources while developing new generation technologies to ensure a secure and homegrown supply of energy.

I’ve stated that our citizens won’t fully embrace emerging energy technologies until it’s in their best economic interest to do so. As I meet with business leaders from around the world, they’re increasingly drawn to powering their facilities with wind in an effort to align their business practices with company philosophy.

Others have been hesitant to embrace renewable energy sources such as wind power, citing a potential increase in cost compared to traditional sources. Many have forged ahead, confident the long-term benefits of renewable energy will outweigh the short-term costs.

Re-Evaluating the Economics

Now, as power prices for new wind generation continue to deflate, many businesses are re-evaluating the economics.

We, as a nation, have been waiting for the moment when a true balance between environmental concerns, economic benefits and energy needs is in view. I believe that moment has arrived.

At the national level, we’ve moved towards this balance by deploying powerful tools, such as tax incentives to support investment in renewable energy projects and grants to encourage innovation in clean-coal technologies. The wind industry has utilized a production tax credit, which has helped the industry see steady growth this decade. I support the continued use of those tools as a way to spur investment in our communities and create sorely needed jobs.

In Kansas and the lower Midwest, our local utilities have designed and are constructing an electric transmission system that ensures greater reliability for our residents, offers access to competitively priced power, and dramatically increases our ability to move renewable energy across the country.

Energy Highways

Other private companies are working to develop renewable energy highways — dedicated transmission lines — that can transport thousands of megawatts of renewable energy from the Midwest to population centers in the East, thereby providing access to clean, reliable and affordable energy for millions of customers.

The Grain Belt Express Clean Line, which will deliver 3,500 megawatts of low cost, renewable energy from western Kansas to southeastern Missouri and points farther east, is a great example of such a project.

A combination of events has occurred in Kansas that has driven the cost of wind energy to historic lows. We have 1,100 megawatts of operational wind and are on track to more than double that number by the end of 2012.

Wind energy makes a compelling economic case with new installed wind prices dropping from around $0.06 per kilowatt hour to $0.03 per kW or lower, while turbine technology increases capacity factors to around 50 percent or more. We’ve increased transmission capacity, constructing more than 1,000 new miles of high-voltage electric transmission. And the wind developers are motivated to sell because of the possible expiration of the tax credits at the end of 2012.

Pricing Kansas Wind

The price of Kansas wind is now competitive with the traditional sources of energy and you can get guaranteed rates for the next 20 years.

Kansans have a proud history of meeting the needs of the world. We export wheat to feed the hungry and machines that can fly to make the world a smaller place. The time has come for us to export clean, reliable, and affordable wind energy to the nation.

For states, utility companies, businesses and citizens, there will be no better time in the foreseeable future than the next few months to purchase wind power.

Many business and political leaders have set renewable energy goals for their organizations. The time has arrived to take action to meet those goals. If you choose to do so, you can be confident you’re also serving the best economic interests of your shareholders, customers and citizens. You can know you’re doing your part to protect the environment.

You will be able to meet your future energy needs.

And we, as a nation, can seize this moment and take a significant step into the future of power.

(Sam Brownback is the Republican governor of Kansas and a former U.S. senator. The views expressed are his own.)

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