U.S. wind manufacturing, jobs and non-U.S. companies By Elizabeth Salerno

We all want the same thing, more American manufacturing jobs. The wind power industry is ready, willing and able to make them happen. The wind industry went from a few thousand American manufacturing jobs a few years ago to over 20,000 today and we aren’t stopping there – we want to keep these people at work and attract even more American manufacturing jobs, don’t you?

Yet, the ongoing media ‘investigation” still lacks the full truth about the wind industry and manufacturing.

Media is missing the boat, and for that matter the opportunity to get American jobs, by being so wrapped up in the name on someone’s work uniform. German, Danish, Spanish, Asian, Indian and American companies are all part of building an American manufacturing industry for wind. Try this one on for size: almost all wind turbine manufacturers that supplied the U.S. in 2008 have American manufacturing facilities already in the ground or publicly announced–GE, Vestas, Siemens, Suzlon, Gamesa, Clipper, Mitsubishi, Acciona, Fuhrlander, DeWind, and EWT; and even more manufacturers are opening up U.S shops in the near future. These are our household names — building turbines in America, for America.

We went from domestically producing less than 25% of the value wind turbines here in America a few years ago, to 50% today, and we are just getting started. Since the wind installations also increased dramatically during those same few years, our domestic manufacturing capabilities have actually increased 12-fold since 2004 to keep up and expand our domestic content. We’ve added, announced or expanded over 100 manufacturing facilities since 2007 alone, representing nearly $3 billion invested in American manufacturing infrastructure. Eleven new turbine manufacturers, foreign and U.S.-based, set up shop in the U.S. or announced facilities in the past few years. Some turbine manufacturers even have internal goals for 70%, 80% domestic content or more. This all sounds like a positive trend toward more domestic manufacturing to me.

The truth is that the wind story is amazing. The wind industry built an American manufacturing sector when no one was looking. But it’s here – it’s in Iowa, Michigan, South Carolina, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Texas, Oklahoma, California, and North Dakota. As a matter of fact, there are wind-related manufacturing facilities across more than 40 states. What is better than that? The wind industry is ready to build more American-based manufacturing, with plans for new facilities popping up across the country, and states are aggressively competing for these jobs. Iowa, a leader in wind manufacturing, has attracted thousands of wind-related manufacturing jobs in the past few years, U.S. and foreign companies alike, and they couldn’t be more excited. Acciona and Siemens are household names in Iowa, employing hundreds, alongside American companies like Clipper and TPI.

The story gets better. Wind manufacturing jobs are just one part of our dynamic industry – the wind industry has construction workers, crane operators, highly-skilled wind technicians, mechanical, electrical and civil engineers, meteorologists, truck drivers, manufacturing line managers, environmental specialists, lawyers, bankers, accountants, and project developers. Yes, we have over 20,000 manufacturing jobs directly employed by the wind industry and want more, but we also have another 65,000 jobs across the economy.

With all of this, there is no reason to hide the fact that we do still import some components. After only a few short years of starting to build our manufacturing base, the U.S wind industry already produces about half of a turbine value in the U.S. and the other half is imported. I’ll venture to say many of our manufacturing industries import components; hey, we are a global economy. We also aren’t shy about saying what is needed to get more manufacturing in the U.S.–and what is at risk. But let’s be honest, a manufacturer, American or foreign, cannot justify multi-million dollar investments in the American wind industry when there isn’t a stable or long-term market in place. Those same manufacturers can look across the Atlantic or Pacific oceans and see countries with multiple national policies and renewable commitments in place, beckoning with their certain market and less risky investment opportunities. We have a world-class wind resource in the U.S., and manufacturers want to invest in America; we just need to give them the signal that the U.S. is open for business.

What about the Treasury grant program?

You did the research to see where and by whom each turbine was made for grant-receiving projects, we did it too; the fact that is missing here is regardless of a company’s home country, over 50% of the turbine value of those very specific turbines at the projects receiving the grant was indeed made in America.

The name of the company has almost no bearing on where the parts are made. Towers and blades, making up around 45% of the cost of hardware, are commonly U.S. sourced. Doesn’t matter who you are, transporting large heavy, equipment from abroad just doesn’t make sense when you can make it in America. Also, we just so happen to have a highly skilled American manufacturing workforce perfectly poised to be part of the growing wind industry.

Let’s take your example of Suzlon. The India-based company already set up a 300-person blade manufacturing shop in Pipestone, Minnesota. Their Pipestone facility is one of 13 different blades shops around the U.S. employing over 5,500 jobs and buying millions of dollars of fiberglass and composites from companies like PPG Industries, Owens Corning, and other major U.S. companies.

Gamesa, a Spain-based turbine manufacturer, already has 4 manufacturing facilities in Pennsylvania manufacturing nacelles, blades and other components employing 1,100 people. Of course, they need a local supply chain too–a supply chain that currently numbers 100 companies in 24 states.

You are correct in pointing out that the grant is received after the project is already completed. Why? Well, it’s the law. The Recovery Act stated that grant money will only be distributed after a project is online in the U.S., producing power and certified by an engineer. Not one penny of grant money leaves our coffers until a wind project is putting kilowatt-hours into our power grid and powering our homes. It’s not a bad way to make certain that only projects that make it to the finish line receive Recovery Act dollars. Sending grant dollars to a project after it is compete might sound counterintuitive. But the mere certainty of the added capital from the grant program down the road has allowed project developers, against all the odds of the financial crisis, to leverage debt and other capital in the market place, complete financing on a project, and move forward with construction. Those dollars from the grant program have already leveraged billions in private capital, now invested in the U.S. market. Together, the grant program and private capital are fueling an industry forward, keeping our 85,000 Americans at work, activating shovel-ready projects, speeding up construction and generally boosting our economy.

The real story here is that companies hailing from the automobile, trucking and railcar, marine, defense and appliance manufacturing sectors are flocking to the American wind industry to find new business and growth opportunities. German-based Siemens turned a Wabash trucking facility into a nacelle facility in Fort Madison, Iowa. Trinity Industries turned a railcar facility into a tower manufacturing shop in Clinton, Illinois. Vestas committed $1 billion in 4 manufacturing facilities in Colorado. TPI turned an old Maytag shop into a blade facility in Newton, Iowa. Nordic, a new turbine entrant, turned a WWII ship gun facility into a wind manufacturing shop in Pocatello, Idaho. Not all of these companies may be American, but they are sure investing in America in a big way. I hope we don’t turn investment away because their names are unknown.

The U.S. has the historic opportunity here to get American manufacturing jobs–let’s act on it! In a letter to Congress sent 6 months ago, the wind manufacturing industry laid out exactly what it will take to get more wind manufacturing here in America and what is at risk if we don’t act. The story hasn’t changed. We’ve been clear that we want more manufacturing in the U.S. and we are offering the pathway. Build a long-term market, and they will come. Heck, the industry has been saying this since before the Recovery Act, and before the financial crisis. The ball is out of our court now. It’s time for Congress to pass comprehensive legislation with a strong renewable commitment, the Renewable Electricity Standard.

Elizabeth Salerno, Response from the American Wind Energy Association to “Blown Away”