If America is to fully harness wind energy as the nation's best hope for renewable power, Arkansas will be a key component.
Gov. Mike Beebe told an American Wind Energy Association gathering Thursday morning in Little Rock that while Arkansas may not be a major wind producer, it will supply the wind industry with the parts it needs to operate. In the last two years, four companies tied to the wind-energy industry have made commitments to Arkansas totalling $270 million.
LM Glasfiber of Denmark began production last year at a $150 million facility at the Port of Little Rock that manufactures wind turbine blades. German firm Nordex will begin construction in January on a $100 million turbine-manufacturing plant in Jonesboro.
Polymarin Composites, a rotor-blade manufacturer, is spending $16 million to move in to the old Levi Strauss facility near I-530 in southeast Little Rock. Wind Water Technology, a supplier to Polymarin's parent company Emergya, will invest $4 million to move onto the same site.
"We may not produce as much hot air as Texas," Beebe joked, "or Oklahoma or Kansas. But we'll give 'em all the stuff they need to make the wind industry work. That stuff will be built right here in Arkansas."
Despite laying off roughly 230 employees in the last year, LM is committed to Arkansas, said Randy Fox, vice president and general manager for LM Glasfiber North America, who noted LM has made Little Rock its North American headquarters.
"We have very high expectations for our Little Rock facility," he told the group of about 80 state business leaders that included several state legislators. "We are here to stay."
Fox said LM chose Little Rock because of several factors:
- Geography: proximity to high wind producing states on the central plains;
- The support of local and state governments: "their support has been unwavering in tough times," Fox noted;
- A motivated workforce;
- Transportation availability: LM can ship from Little Rock via road, rail or water and currently ships internationally from Little Rock;
- and growth potential: LM is planning eight new production buildings at its Little Rock site.
Fox cited the recent credit crunch and the "uncertainty" of the political environment as being responsible for stalling the industry earlier this year.
"We need to know federal policy is not going to change in the next year," he said. "We need a stable platform."
Beebe said while Arkansas is committed to wind energy, Congress needs to assure the private sector that it's committed as well.
"We have to invest in infrastructure upgrades and grid expansion that allows wind energy to be feasible," he said. "If we have to have a whole new power line from the Great Plains to the East Coast, so be it."
Beebe cited three benefits from increased use of wind energy: the economic impact on Arkansas, the effect on the environment, and the reduction of dependence on foreign oil that addresses national-security issues.
"It's not just a pipe dream to talk about renewable energy," he said. "We can put windmills in Arkansas, too, and we're going to. Wind energy is a priority for this state."
U.S. Department of Energy plans call for 20 percent of electricity to be powered by wind by 2030. Its plan can be viewed at www.20percentwind.org.
Fox believes wind will help meet the nation's energy demand, and Arkansas stands to benefit.
"The world will never run out of wind," he said. "We can supply North America's parts right here in Arkansas. What's good for U.S. wind policy is good for Arkansas."
(To view a map of the amount of wind power in Arkansas, click here.)