Building wind power lines could create thousands of jobs

TEXAS - The Public Utility Commission's $5 billion project to build transmission lines to bring West Texas wind power to North Texas and Houston could create thousands of jobs.

Oncor alone expects to hire "a couple thousand" contract workers to erect the lines it's responsible for, chief executive Bob Shapard said. The North Texas utility, a unit of Energy Future Holdings, will do $1.34 billion of the entire project.

The project offers a hopeful vision of the way a government job stimulus plan could work. The massive build-out, to be funded ultimately by a fee on ratepayers, would create jobs not just at the utility itself, but also for building contractors, steel fabricators and steel mills.

Oncor hired Falcon Steel, based in Fort Worth, to build 3,800 steel towers for about $100 million. To do the work, Falcon president David Smith said he must hire up to 40 more people.

"We were able to keep this project right where it belongs, in Texas," Smith said at a news conference.

He said Falcon could compete for the deal because its steel supplier, Nucor Corp., offered a good price on recycled steel.

With the recession, scrap steel prices have dropped, allowing Texas companies to compete aggressively against companies in Mexico, Canada and Brazil.

The deal will give Nucor workers a boost.

Allen Bracey, the sales manager for the company's Jewett, Texas, facility, said the company has never laid off anyone. Instead, when times get tough – like now – Nucor cuts work hours for everyone.

The new contract will give the employees at Nucor's Jewett plant more work, he said.

Oncor's Shapard said he was "pushing to get a Texas firm" to do the steel fabrication work.

Falcon might not have been the cheapest bidder, he said, but it was competitive with the lowest bids.

Shapard said he will apply for money from the federal stimulus package for the project.

He said Oncor could qualify for loan guarantees for the power lines.

Those guarantees could lower the costs for the new power lines for North Texas ratepayers.

In theory, bringing wind power to North Texas should lower power rates here, just as wind power has lowered electricity rates in West Texas.

When the wind blows, wind turbines can displace energy from more expensive natural gas-fired power plants.


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