Salazar blames Congress for layoffs

Interior Secretary Ken Salazar on Monday blamed Congress for layoffs in the wind energy sector.

Salazar lashed out at lawmakers for not extending a tax credit to producers of wind energy. The credit is set to expire at the end of the year, but Salazar said companies are already laying off workers for fear that the incentive won’t exist.

Salazar said inaction by Congress “has already led to layoffs” and that more layoffs will come if Congress fails to act soon.

“That is not the kind of agenda we ought to be working on here in the United States,” he said.

A recent study by energy consulting firm Navigant found that not extending the tax credit, which subsidizes wind power production at 2.2 cents per kilowatt-hour, would cost the U.S. 37,000 jobs.

“We can’t afford to lose 30,000 jobs,” Salazar said.

Salazar made the comments as he announced that final environmental assessments had been completed for two new wind energy projects, one administered by the Bureau of Land Management in Wyoming, the other handled by the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management off the Rhode Island and Massachusetts coasts.

Both projects now enter a 30-day public comment period.

“We started working on renewable energy on Day One,” Salazar said in touting the administration’s efforts. “We have worked on it in a way where we are working on the matter with a long-term view. ... We expect these programs to continue on into the future.”

The 3,000-megawatt, 1,000-turbine Chokecherry and Sierra Madre Wind Farm in Wyoming would be the largest in the nation and possibly in the world, Salazar said. It would provide power for up to 1 million homes as part of a transmission line running as far as Las Vegas.

That transmission project, known as TransWest, is part of a federal program that attempts to referee the jurisdictional tug-of-war over control of the power grid. By providing more federal guidance, the administration hopes to increase renewable power’s proportion of the power grid.

Since the wind farm would produce more power than Wyoming’s 568,000 residents could consume, the state would need to transfer power beyond its borders, Salazar said. Traditionally, that gets into tricky turf battles regarding planning with states and local power producers.

The Rhode Island-Massachusetts development shows “the Northeast catching up” in off-shore wind potential to mid-Atlantic states such as New Jersey, Delaware, Maryland and Virginia, Ocean Energy Management Director Tommy Beaudreau said.

Eight firms already have shown interest in the nearly 165,000-acre plot of land known as the Wind Energy Area, which the bureau will lease in a competitive bidding process by the end of this year.