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New Wind Farm Is Nation's Largest, Means More Clean Energy, Jobs

Last week marked the opening of the largest wind farm in the U.S. -- a site that will power 235,000 homes. The Shepherds Flat Wind Farm near Arlington, Ore., is a just the latest example of our nation's clean energy industry powering our homes, businesses, and economy.

Work on the Shepherds Flat project began in 2009 and brought with it more than 400 construction jobs. The Shepherds Flat project will continue to provide 45 full-time jobs for Oregon's Gilliam and Morrow Counties, in addition to agricultural jobs that will continue on the farmland at the project site.

The cherry on top is that the Shepherds Flat turbines were built by an American manufacturer and installed by American workers. And because this wind project is sited on previously-disturbed and actively-used farmland near existing transmission lines, the project will have lower impacts on local wildlife.

As someone who spends the vast majority of my time battling coal pollution, it is inspiring and exciting to see clean energy continue to grow and replace the dirty fossil fuels that are making Americans sick and pushing our climate to the brink. This massive wind farm is just one of dozens of clean energy projects that have gone onto the grid in 2012, which is shaping up to be a record year for clean energy, as coal use has dropped to record lows. 

Nationwide, wind energy capacity has doubled since 2008 and now generates more than 50,000 megawatts, enough to power 13 million homes. By way of comparison, the total coal retirements announced since January 2010 equal 45,000 megawatts. 

Unfortunately, gridlock in Congress threatens to bring this progress to a screeching halt, not to mention putting 75,000 American wind industry jobs at risk. Congress needs to renew the Production Tax Credit for wind, and its dithering and delay has already resulted in thousands of layoffs in the crucial manufacturing sector.

At a time when we hear story after story about wind companies laying off workers, we need Congress to take action to help save and create more jobs in the wind industry. When we've got federal and state policies helping create such a powerful economic clean energy boom in the U.S., why would Congress let it die?

Even beyond the jobs, wind farms like Shepherds Flat are meeting energy demand that would otherwise have required power plants to burn dirty fossil fuels like coal, releasing toxic pollutants into our air and water and poisoning our communities.

According to estimates from the developers, power generated at the Shepherds Flat wind farm will avoid about 1.5 million tons of carbon dioxide from being emitted per year, roughly equivalent to the emissions from 260,000 passenger vehicles.

This new wind farm opening is emboldening -- our nation can transition away from fossil fuels and power our communities with clean energy that creates jobs. Let's keep up the progress by renewing the wind production tax credit.

This article was originally published on Huffington Post and was republished with permission.

Lead image: Wind turbines via Shutterstock

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Mary Anne Hitt is director of the Sierra Club's Beyond Coal Campaign, which is working to eliminate coal's contribution to global warming and repower the nation with clean energy.

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