As the director of a factory in Little Rock, I am always on the lookout for opportunities to keep our workers busy and develop a pipeline of new projects for our state. The Wind Catcher Energy Connection is one such opportunity.
It's an important and exciting project that will benefit not only my 590 co-workers here at LM Wind Power, but also the broader Arkansas economy.
There is a lot to like about the project. Once built, Wind Catcher will be the largest wind farm in the U.S., bringing affordable energy to more than one million SWEPCO and PSO customers across Arkansas, Louisiana, Texas and Oklahoma. In fact, SWEPCO customers can expect to save more than $4 billion over the life of the project on lower utility bills alone.
More than 800 state-of-the-art wind turbines will be used for the project, and much of that work will be done by employees in Arkansas. LM Wind Power is supplying more than 30 percent of the blades for the project, which will support almost 600 Little Rock employees and their families.
While LM jobs are good-paying and stable, they only exist thanks to projects like Wind Catcher.
Arkansas' long history as a robust manufacturing state has enabled our economy to become an important player in the region's renewable-energy sector. At the end of 2016, there were more than 100,000 wind-related jobs in the United States, and the industry's rapid expansion is expected to continue.
Growth in the sector will go on with or without us. That's why it's in our best interest to act now to ensure our state is in the best position to reap the benefits of one of the fastest-growing industries in the country. Supporting projects like Wind Catcher sends a clear message that our state is open for business and outside investments that support jobs and drive economic development.
Leading businesses like Amazon, Google and Microsoft have embraced renewable energy and set ambitious sustainability goals. Their words and actions indicate that they find access to clean, affordable renewable energy an important factor in making decisions where to site new operations.
Consider the words of Walmart's vice president for energy, Mark Vanderhelm, who called energy from projects like Wind Catcher a "core component in the mix" of their goal to be supplied by 100 percent renewable energy. He made those statements as part of a settlement that Walmart signed supporting Wind Catcher.
Some critics argue that SWEPCO customers would be responsible if the project failed to qualify for certain tax credits, but that's just not the case. Should the project not qualify for the federal production tax credit, SWEPCO has already guaranteed to cover the difference in project outlays, meaning the company, and not ratepayers, will bear the costs.
Wind, solar, natural gas, coal and nuclear--they all play an important role in Arkansas' energy mix. Wind Catcher will only serve to complement Arkansas' in-state power producers as our communities' diverse electricity needs grow.
While Wind Catcher may be physically located in Oklahoma, where the wind resources are strong, the project's benefits will flow across the region.
As opponents have noted, Arkansas is not a wealthy state. But what Arkansas really can't afford is to pass up on a once-in-a-lifetime economic partnership that will support good jobs, help keep and attract businesses committed to the fast growing renewable-energy sector, and bring affordable power to its hardworking citizens.
Jacqueline Highsmith is plant director of LM Wind Power in Little Rock.
Editorial on 04/14/2018