The wind industry is a whole lot more than meets the eye. Behind those turbine towers serenely dotting the skyline is the bustle of manufacturing, construction, and maintenance work which goes into building and operating them. Throughout the Great Plains’ wind corridor, these jobs are helping revitalize small towns that have been hurt economically by the migration of traditional kinds of manufacturing overseas.  Nowhere is this process more noticeably transformative than in the state of Iowa, where the manufacturing of turbines and nacelles (the box on the turbine which contains the generator), account for 2,300 jobs.

Iowa has a rich history of manufacturing in areas that you might expect for such an agricultural powerhouse—its specialties  included farm equipment and food processing machinery. It also had plants devoted to products such as printing presses and coal trucks. This history meant that even though the state had to endure manufacturing slowdowns and concurrent job losses over the past 30 years, it always possessed human capital with knowledge of how to build things.  Components of wind turbines, such as blades which can weigh up to 15,000 lbs, fit into the same class of heavy machinery as much farm equipment. Thus, Iowa was in a great position to supply its wind industry with parts as homegrown as its corn.

Many wind manufacturing companies have chosen to locate in Iowa, including industry giants such as Germany’s Siemens and Spains’ Acciona.  This makes sense given the state’s abundant wind resources and reputation for being on the progressive edge of wind development. Iowa is known for passing one of the country’s first Renewable Energy Standards back in the day when this type of legislation wasn’t yet the norm. The state also offers tax incentives for wind companies who build plants there. All of this has resulted in small town success stories such as those profiled here and here.

The growth of wind manufacturing in Iowa makes it an interesting model for the wind industry as a whole. For one thing, it proves that wind has grown out of any possible classification as a “niche” industry. It powers job growth not just in manufacturing but also in the technical field (installing turbines) and the development field (planning wind farms). Although each field is highly specialized, Iowa shows that when brought together, these jobs can provide a dynamic boost across the whole economy.

Finally, Iowa’s prowess in all things wind is leading to some unforeseen benefits. First, the state has become a leader in wind research and education. Programs at the state’s colleges which train students to become wind technicians consistently find employers swooping in to hire students before they even graduate, and Iowa State recently established a Wind Energy Manufacturing Laboratory to focus on improving productivity and reducing costs at turbine factories. Also, another sign that Iowa’s proactive stance on renewable energy is paying off came July 20th when Google inked a 20-year contract to purchase 114MW of power from a wind farm in Story County.

All of this shows that wind energy’s benefits are constituted not just in the electricity it produces but also in the activity behind the scenes. Iowa (which produces a higher percentage of its energy from wind than any other state) is a great example of wind having a far-reaching positive impact on a region.

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