Gov. Granholm Keynotes Small and Community Wind, Supply Chain Meetings in Detroit

Governor Granholm continued, “In Michigan, we’re turning the so-called rust belt into a green belt of clean energy manufacturing. We’ve got a robust and growing wind supply chain of more than 70 companies in Michigan already, doing hundreds of millions of dollars in business annually.”

Nearly 1,700 people are expected to attend the conference and workshop, the largest attendance ever at an American Wind Energy Association (AWEA) conference other than its annual WIND POWER Conference & Exhibition. In addition, more than 100 exhibitors are displaying the latest wind small turbine technology.

“Wind energy is giving people power, opportunity and hope for the future,” said. Denise Bode, AWEA CEO. “Record attendance at the conference and workshop reflects the increasing importance of the small and community sectors of the industry, and the demand for additional wind energy manufacturing facilities in the United States.

“In Detroit we are giving citizens tools to take control of their energy future, and showing businesses how they can enter the wind industry, which will create hundreds of thousands of jobs for Americans. With an economic recovery and the right local and federal policies, including a strong renewable electricity standard, there is no limit to what our industry can achieve in producing clean energy and good jobs.”

Jacob Susman of OwnEnergy, a community wind developer and co-chair of the conference, said, “This conference is really the coming of age event for Community Wind. A number of compelling factors have converged to create the ‘perfect storm’ for Community Wind in the U.S., including the need for local jobs, economic development and renewable projects that can seamlessly connect to the existing grid infrastructure. The time is right to focus on smaller, distributed wind projects that give ownership to the local community.”

Charles Newcomb of NexGen Energy Partners, also a co-chair, said, “We know it’s been a tough year in Detroit. And it’s hard to see exactly what the future holds. But speaking as a wind developer, we need exactly what Detroit has. Contract manufacturers that have been serving the auto industry can make small and mid-sized wind work for America.”

Trevor Lauer, a vice president of utility DTE Energy, which serves 3.4 million Michigan customers, noted that community wind presents few problems connecting to the grid. “We are working to bring community wind into our system.”

According to a study by the Renewable Energy Policy Project, Michigan is one of the top five states in potential manufacturing job creation from large-scale wind power development.

AWEA has estimated that Michigan has 32 existing and announced wind-related manufacturing facilities, which will result in more than 1,200 jobs. Last year, the wind industry opened, announced or expanded 55 new manufacturing facilities nationwide, and added 35,000 new jobs.

A diverse wind industry on display in Detroit By Chris Madison

The wind industry that convened in Detroit this week was a different crowd than typically attends a wind energy event—the talk was more of kilowatts than megawatts, reflecting a higher profile for small and community wind.

The Small and Community Wind Conference and exhibition was a first for AWEA, and program organizers saw the attendance as a sign of strong interest in two sectors of the industry that are coming into their own.

The Small and Community Wind conference and Exhbition took place in concert with AWEA’s Supply Chain Workshop. Total attendance was more than 2100, splt roughly evenly among three topic areas, according to the conference organizers.

“The numbers indicate the tremendous interest in small wind,” said Charles Newcomb, a small wind program co-chair and Vice President of NextGen Energy. “The meetings were well attended right until the end of the conference. There was a strong desire among attendees to know more about small wind,” he said.

That enthusiasm was also in evidence on the show floor, where exhibitors reported not only leads for future sales but even deals closed this week. One small wind turbine manufacturer reported that he sold 10 of his $70,000 turbines over the two day conference.

Community Wind organizers were also enthusiastic. This sector is less visible than small wind, and there are still different views about how to define it. But there was no doubt the interest about one third of those who registered indicated their interest was in community wind, and the agenda, which ranged from the Wind for School program to the challenges of selling power to rural coops and utilities, as well as financing and project development sessions, reflected both the diversity of players and willingness to take on tough issues.

“This conference is really the coming of age event for Community Wind,” said Jacob Susman, CEO of OwnEnergy, a community wind developer, and co-chair of the conference. “A number of compelling factors have converged to create the ‘perfect storm’ for Community Wind in the U.S., including the need for local jobs, economic development and renewable projects that can seamlessly connect to the existing grid infrastructure.

Proving his point, during the week, OwnEnergy announced a partnership with a subsidiary of the Nationals Farmers Union to develop a 20 MW wind project in in Otter Tail County, Minnesota.

The increased visibility of small and community wind is a positive development. The wind industry as a whole will grow in political clout as it broadens its scope and image. The Wind for Schools program, for example, which was extensively discussed in Detroit, allows the industry to build a rural base of support that may well differ from the constituency that grows out of utility-scale development.

So, too, connecting with rural electric cooperatives, seemingly a natural constituency for wind energy, may be easier as more coops buy power from community wind developers.

One sign that small and community wind have been granted a more permanent seat at the table—planning is already starting on next year’s program.