Capital News Service

of the Michigan State University School of Journalism

What’ll turn things around? Wind energy

By NYSSA RABINOWITZ
Capital News Service
LANSING – With the decline of the automotive industry and Michigan’s economy taking a turn for the worse, workers and businesses are looking for ways to turn things around — and they may have found one answer: Wind energy.

Seventy-six businesses, including ones in Eaton Rapids, Detroit, Fenton, Saginaw and Monroe, affiliated with the Michigan Manufacturers Association have formed a Wind Energy Community, according to Chuck Hadden, president of the association.

“Everyone who shows an interest in the community realizes that Michigan needs to do everything possible to bring manufacturers back into the state,” said Marty Poljan, general manager of Axson North America Inc. in Eaton Rapids and a member of the Wind Energy Community’s leadership group.

Wind power offers those types of opportunities, Poljan said.

The coalition helps local wind energy turbine manufacturers communicate with each other and identify challenges and opportunities for bringing more manufacturers into the state, Poljan said. However, the companies came together only several months ago, which means results have been limited so far.

For Ventower Industries in Monroe, joining the new coalition made perfect sense, said Scott Viciana, vice president of Ventower and member of the community leadership board. Ventower is a specialized company that produces wind energy turbine towers.

Wind energy is a relatively new industry, Viciana said. Having a group of people who understand the industry, know how to market it, and know its role in Michigan is a big selling point for out of state manufacturers who may want to start projects here.

Having all your component-making companies close together will also affect potential project start-ups, Viciana said. It makes logistics easier for companies coming in who may not know where their required resources are and it keeps everything close together and connected.

That makes it easier for companies to build in Michigan, Viciana said.

Other members of the Wind Energy Community include Creative Foam Corp. in Fenton, Dowding Industries in Eaton Rapids, Merrill Technologies Group in Saginaw and W Industries in Detroit.

Moving from cars to wind energy is no coincidence because Michigan is already a manufacturing leader, which makes it well aligned for the wind industry, according to John Sarver of the state Energy Office.

But wind energy isn’t an easy industry to get into because it’s extremely competitive. Therefore, Michigan must compete with other states and countries to secure projects and funding.

That’s where the Wind Energy Community may be able to help, Sarver said. Having an organization to allow members to share information and knowledge and collaborate on projects and developments could go a long way, Sarver said.

Wind is one of the cheapest renewable energy sources, according to the U.S. Department of Energy. Wind energy costs between 4 and 6 cents per kilowatt-hour, depending on the amount of wind and the cost of the initial project.

And the benefits for Michigan are already starting, Sarver said.

Many companies are now manufacturing small wind turbines, blades and towers in cities like Holland. That could mean opportunities for growth and for high-paying jobs, Sarver said.

“The reality is that wind energy is coming to Michigan,” Viciana said.

© 2010, Capital News Service, Michigan State University School of Journalism. Not to be reproduced without permission.

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Filed under: Environment

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