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Enviro-labor group urges national 'green' energy goals Coalition says region could benefit greatly

The parts for the wind turbines whirling in the background came from as far away as Brazil.

But more turbines like them could come from local plants, creating thousands of local jobs -- if policymakers give another push to the green energy movement.

That was the pitch from a labor-environmental coalition Friday. The Blue-Green Alliance used the Steel Winds wind farm in Lackawanna as the backdrop for its press conference to call for a national green-energy quota.

The group announced a study estimating that Erie and Niagara counties could see nearly 6,000 manufacturing jobs in 10 years as a supplier to renewable energy industries.

"We need our political leaders to understand this is the next dot-com -- this is where it is," said Robert Knoer, chairman of the Wind Action Group in Buffalo.

The study, performed by the Renewable Energy Policy Project, assumes the nation builds 185,000 megawatts of generating capacity from wind, solar, geothermal and biomass sources.

The Blue-Green Alliance, led by the United Steelworkers and the Sierra Club, is calling for passage of the Renewable Electricity Standard in an energy bill before Congress. The standard would require 15 percent of U.S. energy come from renewable sources by 2020.

Critics have said the result would be higher utility bills, and that makers of wind turbines already face a two-year order backlog -- spurred partly by federal tax credits.

New York already has a green-energy quota, calling for 25 percent of electricity to come from renewable sources by 2013.

Advocates of a national quota say that the assurance of a national market would spur producers of renewable technologies to invest more heavily.

Gamesa, a Spanish wind turbine company, is basing U.S. production in a former U.S. Steel plant in Pennsylvania, said William Pienta, District 4 director of the United Steelworkers.

And in Niagara Falls, Globe Metallurgical plans to reopen the plant it shut in 2003, in part to supply silicon for solar cells.

There are 217 companies in Erie and Niagara that are poised to benefit from renewable energy work, the alliance study said. Manufacturers like machine shops could benefit by supplying parts to the industry.

Electricity distributor National Grid supports the idea of a national renewable standard instead of a patchwork of different state requirements, spokesman Steve Brady said. The company operates in parts of four Northeast states.

However, "one of the key concerns for us is what happens to the cost to the end user," he added.

With the exception of Rep. Thomas Reynolds, R-Clarence, Western New York's congressional delegation favors the standard, said Frank Hotchkiss, the Steelworkers' political coordinator.

A press aide said Reynolds is still weighing the issue, and that while he supports renewable energy, he is concerned about the quota's cost for consumers.

e-mail: fwilliams@buffnews.com

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