Entrepreneurs to legislature: Give us the tools to make Michigan a wind power player!
Hoping to rouse a legislature distracted by the state’s budgetary woes, wind energy experts and entrepreneurs addressed their role in Michigan’s economy at the Manufacturing and Developing Wind Energy Systems in Michigan symposium held Sept. 10 and 11 at Michigan State University.
Participants spoke forcefully of the need for a strong renewable portfolio standard (RPS) in Michigan and brainstormed other factors necessary for realizing Michigan’s wind potential. An RPS would require utilities to generate a certain percentage of their energy from renewable sources by a certain date. Several versions of RPS bills are awaiting action in the legislature.
Michigan is already behind the pack. More than half of American states have an RPS, many stronger than the ones proposed in Michigan. This has led international wind industry giants (known as OEMs, or original equipment manufacturers) such as Siemens and Gamesa to pass over Michigan as a potential site for their manufacturing plants, despite its ranking as the 14th windiest state in the nation. Instead, companies eye states with an RPS, which they view as serious about renewable energy, including Iowa and Pennsylvania.
The conference sought to reverse this trend by gathering many of Michigan’s turbine component manufacturers, wind advocates and state officials together with out-of-state and international wind companies for discussion and business negotiations. The discussion sessions delved into nuts-and-bolts issues, ranging from panels on supply chain challenges and Michigan’s economic potential, presentations on local zoning and planning needs, and many other issues pertaining to the success of wind manufacturing and installation in the state.
Larry Flowers of the National Renewable Energy Laboratory focused specifically on the “Dollars and Sense of Wind Energy for Michigan.” His data showed that, in addition to a boost for Michigan’s manufacturing economy, turbines would provide both short- and long-term employment. Wind farms would employ Michiganders in construction, installation and long-term operations and maintenance jobs in rural economies across the state. Wind farms will also contribute to the preservation of essential Michigan farmland as wind developers lease farmland, helping to make agriculture more profitable.
None of this was a revelation to longtime observers. The Union of Concerned Scientists estimates that a nationwide RPS achieving 20% renewable energy by 2020 would create almost 5,000 Michigan jobs—more than twice the expected impact from building traditional coal or natural gas plants.
Wind energy also would provide a hedge against volatile prices for traditional power, which are expected to rise as the U.S. creeps toward policies limiting increases in global warming emissions such as carbon dioxide from coal-fired plants.
In the past 25 years, turbine size and power production has increased dramatically, and manufacturing has shifted into high gear, streamlining the processes and components used along the way. These improvements, along with economies of scale, have dropped the cost of wind power to the point where it is comparable to coal in many areas of the country.
According to data from the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL), average wind pricing across the country is often below the regional wholesale power price average. Although recent data shows a potential upward trend in pricing, this is due in large part to increasing demand for wind farms without the manufacturing capacity to supply the orders. This underscores Michigan’s component manufacturing opportunity and the need for a strong state energy package.
When Michigan’s legislature gets serious about wind component manufacturing with the passage of a strong RPS, the result will be a boost to our long-term economic outlook, and lower, cleaner energy costs.