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Woke or not, Kentucky is behind a new green steel factory that supports President Joe Biden's goal for offshore wind development in the US (photo courtesy of Nucor).

Green Economy

In Bluegrass State, Nucor’s Green Steel Trumps Anti-Wokedness

Woke or not, Kentucky is behind a new green steel factory that supports President Joe Biden’s goal for offshore wind development in the US.

Oh the irony, it burns! Kentucky is celebrating its new title as home of the biggest green steel factory in the US, which aims to be the top supplier to the domestic offshore wind industry. Meanwhile, Kentucky is also part of the ridiculous “anti-woke” movement, which seeks to prevent financial institutions from investing in clean energy. So, what’s up with that?

Bluegrass State Goes After Green Investors…

At least 16 states are actively involved in the “anti-woke” movement. Kentucky presents an interesting case because its Democratic Governor, Andy Beshear, has pushed back against efforts by the Republican-held state legislature to attack the ESG (environmental, social, governance) business principles that support clean energy investing.

However, the office of Governor Beshear does not control the office of State Attorney General Daniel Cameron. As part of the anti-woke movement, Cameron has been investigating Kentucky members of the Net Zero Banking Alliance for “possible violations of Kentucky’s state consumer protection act and federal antitrust law.”

As described by the newsletter Regulatory Oversight (a branch of the firm Troutman Pepper), the 150-strong members of the Kentucky Bankers Association fought back. The organization filed suit against Cameron in state court along with its subsidiary Hope of Kentucky, seeking a decision that will stop the investigations and declare Cameron’s actions unlawful.

In November, Cameron asked to have the case removed to federal court. The wheels of justice appear to be stuck for the moment, but US Representative Andy Barr of Kentucky’s 13th Congressional District has picked up the torch.

Barr, who is described as “one of the top Republicans on the House Financial Services Committee,” has said that he and his colleagues will be “exercising rigorous oversight of both regulators and private sector asset managers who have politicized capital allocation that damages American workers, retirees, and discriminates against US energy producers,” as cited by Bloomberg Law in December.

…But Invests In Green Steel

Despite the public posturing by Barr, Cameron, and the rest of the anti-woke set, coal companies in Kentucky have killed off thousands of their own coal jobs through generations of mechanization, in step with the rest of the industry. Adding insult to injury, Kentucky is now in position to help eliminate thousands more fossil energy jobs in other states, by hosting a green steel factory that will support the acceleration of the domestic offshore wind industry.

Barr and Cameron may want to take a quick look back at the role of Kentucky’s public dollars in the clean energy revolution before they start casting anti-woke stones at private sector financial institutions.

Nucor started construction on the new green steel plant in Brandenburg, Kentucky, in October of 2020. In a congratulatory press release, Governor Beshear listed the financial incentives Kentucky deployed to attract the company. The state and Nucor reached a preliminary agreement on a 15-year, performance based incentive package in 2019, arranged by the Kentucky Economic Development Finance Authority  under the Kentucky Business Investment program. The agreement provides for:

  • Up to $30 million in tax incentives, based on hitting wage and job targets
  • Up to $10 million in additional tax incentives through the Kentucky Enterprise Initiative Act, which enables companies to save on sales and use taxes for construction costs and other expenses
  • Free recruitment and job placement services through the Kentucky Skills Network, and reduced-cost training programs

Nucor Puts Green Steel To Work For US Wind Industry

In steel and other hard-to-decarbonize industries, words like “green” and “sustainable” relate more to improvements than to the successful elimination of negative impacts.

With that in mind, let’s take a look at Nucor’s vision for green steel. The company crossed the CleanTechnica radar once before, back in 2019, when it introduced a green steel recycling plant in Missouri. Aside from reduced emissions, the plant was designed to produce new, longer rails for the nation’s railway network, leading to transportation efficiency improvements.

Similarly, the new Nucor Steel Brandenburg facility is designed with a specific customer in mind. Nucor issued a press release last week, introducing its “new sustainable heavy gauge steel plate product made specifically to meet the growing demands of America’s offshore wind energy producers building the green economy and its necessary infrastructure,” under the trademarked name Elcyon.

Leon Topalian, the Chair, President, and Chief Executive Officer of Nucor Corporation, explained that “Elcyon’s larger and thicker plate sizes will help the United States become a leader in offshore wind production.”

Other characteristics mentioned by Nucor are improved weldability and “excellent fracture toughness” compared to its competitors.

Nucor also cited the additional demand for steel sparked by the Inflation Reduction Act and President Biden’s goal of building 30 gigawatts in offshore wind by 2030. “This could result in approximately 7.5 million tons of additional steel demand and create enough clean energy to power 10 million homes,” the company enthused.

As for the green in Nucor’s green steel, that is mainly due to the use of recycled steel, and the substitution of electric-arc furnaces instead of blast furnaces. Nucor claims that the greenhouse gas intensity of its steel is 1/5 the average for conventional steel making from raw materials in blast furnaces.

Additionally, Nucor notes that it is seeking LEED v4 certification from the US Green Building Council for the Brandenberg facility, an industry first.

Green Steel Is Just The Beginning

Aside from its newfound affinity for green steel and offshore wind energy, Kentucky is finally loosening up the bottleneck for solar development.

Kentucky might not remain a regional laggard for long,” CleanTechnica noted last fall. “Last year, GM engineered a new solar power deal for its Corvette factory in the Bluegrass State. The Tennessee Valley Authority is lending an assist, as part of its pivot into renewable energy.

CleanTechnica also took note of the potential for converting spent coal mines to solar arrays and energy storage facilities. That is particularly interesting because the Inflation Reduction Act has infused the Energy Department’s Loan Programs Office with an additional $350 billion on top of the $44 billion it already has in hand. Some of the new funding will go to set up a new program aimed at repurposing or upgrading outdated energy facilities.

The Loan Programs Office is notorious for a number of different things, including its decision to provide a $465 million loan to Tesla Motors in 2010. The infusion of funds enabled Tesla to vault from a small-batch producer of luxury sports cars to its current status as a mainstream maker of reasonably priced (though still somewhat expensive) sedans and SUVs.

Less well known but equally important is a loan of $5.9 million to the Ford Motor Company in 2009, which smoothed the way for the company’s electrification plans including the launch of its wildly popular F-150 Lightning all-electric pickup truck.

Also of interest is Kentucky’s participation in plans to establish a hydrogen hub in Appalachia with a funding assist from the Energy Department’s regional hydrogen hub program. West Virginia is leading the Appalachian effort, so it’s safe to assume that natural gas is part of the plan. However, Nucor and Plug Power are among the private sector participants, bringing up the possibility of spillover into the sustainable hydrogen area.

Follow me on Trainwreck Twitter @TinaMCasey.

Find me on LinkedIn: @TinaMCasey or Mastodon: @Casey or Post: @tinamcasey

Photo (cropped): New green steel factory starts production in Kentucky, courtesy of Nucor via Facebook.

 
 
 
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Written By

Tina specializes in military and corporate sustainability, advanced technology, emerging materials, biofuels, and water and wastewater issues. Views expressed are her own. Follow her on Twitter @TinaMCasey and Google+.

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