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Housing cash for windmills?

March 20, 2003

What do windmills have to do with affordable housing? We're not sure, but we look forward to an explanation from the West Virginia Housing Development Fund officials who on Tuesday approved a $1.75 million loan to a firm that develops electricity-producing windmills.

The firm is U.S. Wind Force, and though the deal is not the fund's first involving economic development, the Associated Press reports that it's the first that has no link to affordable housing or helping citizens get better jobs to pay housing costs.

This arrangement will help the Pennsylvania company begin work on two "wind farms" it hopes to build on West Virginia's eastern mountains. Jim Cookman, regional vice president of the firm, told AP the action could someday lead a manufacturer of wind turbines to locate in the state.

That seems like a stretch to us, and more important, a roundabout way of luring jobs to the state. Just because a product will be used in West Virginia doesn't necessarily mean it will be produced there.

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Even if there is a market here, the state would have to convince the turbine maker that the cost of operating in West Virginia is cheaper than doing so elsewhere and shipping the product in.

Another point: The nation now has a surplus of power, after utilities built plants to take advantage of rising prices. Wind-generated power may be cleaner, but we can't believe it will be cheaper anytime soon.

Finally, if the agency strays from its main mission, where does that leave those who need affordable housing?

In January, Frank Raines, CEO of Fannie Mae, the nation's largest source of home mortgage financing, told a national home builders' group that without some action, the U.S. will face a critical shortage of affordable dwelling space by 2010.

Raines' answer to this problem: Get more affordable financing for the 13 million-plus new households that will seek dwellings in the next decade. He offered a variety of ways in which that could be done, but after a close inspection of his plan, we could find nothing related to windmills.

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