Seeds of Wind Energy Must Be Watered (Guest Commentary)

My friends at Arkansas Business Leaders for a Clean Energy Economy invited me to attend an event at which former Michigan Gov. Jennifer Granholm described what can be done on a state level and what has actually been done in Michigan to boost the clean energy economy.

During her presentation, I thought, "It is action and vision such as this that has brought the renewable energy sector, and the wind industry in particular, to where it is today in the United States."

In fact, my company has a quite promising wind project under development together with a local partner in Michigan. The project is named Beebe Community Wind Farm, an interesting coincidence that always makes me think of Arkansas.

As you may know, the wind industry has created thousands of jobs during the last five years, at times in a very difficult economic environment. We're on our way to our target of 700 jobs by 2014 at our plant in Jonesboro. Subject to market conditions, we intend to meet that goal.

Those jobs, and the 89,000 clean-energy jobs created in Michigan, are the result of opportunities, not subsidies - opportunities created because wind offers a clean-energy alternative at a very competitive cost.

I'm sure it won't surprise you that I would suggest wind as one of the better sources of energy. It is one of the few abundant and inexhaustible resources. And once you've installed your turbines, the fuel is free of charge. To my mind, it's what is called in America "a no-brainer."

There seems to be widespread interest in wind energy and great grassroots support. Surveys show that 89 percent of Americans believe the country should increase the amount of energy it gets from wind.

And yet wind power and other renewables remain marginalized by a mix of environmental, financial and political roadblocks that force them to compete on a very uneven playing field. The legislative commitment and governmental leadership have in no way kept pace with the voters' sentiments, at least on a national level.

States like Michigan have filled the vacuum by creating their own Renewable Energy Standards. In fact, 38 states have already set some form of standard or goal specifying that utilities generate a certain amount of their electricity from renewable or alternative energy sources, such as wind. Arkansas remains in a minority as one of the 12 states that have not.

However, Arkansas is unique in another way. It has been one of the nation's leaders in providing a home for the wind industry. Companies such as Nordex and our suppliers, like LM Wind Power in Little Rock and Beckmann Volmer in Osceola, and many others have been drawn to Arkansas by the opportunity and the state's vision of the potential of our industry.

I find it hard to reconcile these two facts. This state has worked so hard and so successfully to attract our growing industry. Arkansas has sown the seeds for the future. And yet it is not supporting its own vision and its own companies by watering the seeds it's planted. Some have pointed out that Arkansas' wind resource is not as strong as that found in other parts of the country. While this is true, new wind turbine technology - like Nordex' new N117 turbine, which will be made in the state - will allow more light wind locations to share in all the benefits that wind energy can bring.

It is my hope that discussions like this one with former Gov. Granholm and ones we may all have together in the future will help Arkansas establish a leadership role in this important way.

(Ralf Sigrist is president of Nordex USA Inc., a wind turbine manufacturing plant in Jonesboro.)