NOLA.COM - Clean energy is big -- really big -- business for Louisiana
With one billion-dollar project planned in New Iberia, and another one coming in at more than $600 million in Lake Charles, Louisiana is clearly front and center for big new investments related to the nation’s climate change goals. It’s the shape of things to come, with jobs and benefits flowing to the state.
A national producer of solar panels, First Solar, will build the Port of Iberia project, said to be the largest single capital investment in the area’s history.
The announcement “leaves no doubt that Louisiana is leading the global energy transition and creating good-paying jobs as a result,'' Gov. John Bel Edwards said.
In the Lake Charles area, where petrochemical manufacturing — and resultant high emissions — are foundations of the local economy, an innovative approach to reducing carbon in the atmosphere is one of two such projects funded in the nation.
Experts say that the new technology of Project Cypress, developed by a team led by the national research organization Battelle, is needed to try to reduce carbon in the atmosphere rather than simply preventing its release.
That in itself is a controversial idea, although major projects around the state are planning to use well-understood injection wells to stash greenhouse gases underground.
About 30 plants of this nature have been commissioned worldwide, The New York Times reported, but U.S. Energy Department officials said that when complete the Louisiana project and another in Texas would be the largest in the world.
Thousands of construction jobs would be created in the Calcasieu River chemical corridor. President Joe Biden’s infrastructure czar, former New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu, said the grants for the projects, if fully achieved by the two consortiums, would be “the largest investment in engineered carbon removal in history.”
“Direct-air capture” would still, however, require either injection of the carbon underground or cost-effective ways in which it could be used in products like concrete.
We disagree with those who argue such projects are “greenwashing,” or justifying further fossil-fuel production through carbon capture projects. As fast as the need, and market, for renewable energy is growing, oil and gas will remain a major part of the world economy for the foreseeable future.
The big national, indeed international, trends in climate-oriented business are on display in these two Louisiana projects: “near-shoring,” or moving more manufacturing closer to its American customer base, with First Solar; and “direct air capture” with Project Cypress — but with the new twist of a “vacuum cleaner” for the atmosphere, in the words of U.S. Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm.
In both cases, this type of forward-thinking investment in Louisiana is welcome.