Georgia targets wind-power industry at upcoming gathering

Source: BY KRISTI E. SWARTZ, Atlanta Journal-Constitution • Posted: Sunday, June 3, 2012

ATLANTA — Georgia’s leaders are hoping to capitalize on the state’s nascent manufacturing industry for wind power when 200 international wind energy exhibitors come to Atlanta next week.

The state already is home to more than a dozen companies that make components that either go into wind turbines or that assist in building them. Such development has been a way for Georgia and the Southeast to capitalize on the wind energy industry even though the state lacks a steady wind needed for the giant turbines to spin constantly and create electricity.

“It’s … to have some visibility in the industry and to let those industry players know that this is an industry that’s important to Georgia, that it is on our radar screen, and it’s one of our targeted industries,” said Tom Croteau, director of the Economic Development Department’s food, energy, logistics and agribusiness projects division.

Georgia is also important to the industry because of the Port of Savannah. Nearly $200 million worth of wind-related products moved through the port last year, Denise Bode, chief executive of the American Wind Energy Association, said in a recent interview with The Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

“You are critical because of your transportation hub,” she said.

The state’s Economic Development Department will share a booth with the Georgia Ports Authority and the Metro Atlanta Chamber of Commerce at the conference at the Georgia World Congress Center. More than 30 companies that are based in or have a major presence in Georgia will be among the 900 exhibitors.

The wind energy industry accounted for 100 direct and 500 indirect jobs in Georgia in 2010. (An indirect job would be in an industry providing needed supplies or services.) Since then, however, Georgia has recruited companies such as Hailo USA, a maker of ladders for wind towers. And, last week, wind turbine gearbox manufacturer ZF Wind Power said it would add more than 100 jobs to its Gainesville plant, for a total of 250 jobs.

“We’re looking for companies that have investment projects, who are looking at the U.S. and hopefully the Southeast portion of the U.S. to do their next project,” Croteau said.

There are more than 470 wind-related manufacturing operations in the U.S. Most of them have started in the past five years. About 90 of those operations are in the South. The growth has shifted the amount of wind turbine components that are made in the U.S. to 60 percent, from just 25 percent five years ago.

When it comes to actually getting electricity from renewables, wind hasn’t been in the picture, taking a back seat to solar and biofuels. Atlanta-based Southern Co., parent of Georgia Power, gets 2 percent of its electricity from renewables, which include hydroelectric power and solar.

“We’re not going to produce wind energy here, but these parts have got to be made somewhere, and from the governor’s point of view, it should be done in Georgia,” said Brian Robinson, a spokesman for Gov. Nathan Deal.

Southern and its subsidiaries have agreed to buy electricity from wind projects in South Carolina and Oklahoma, but currently no turbines spin in Georgia or off the coast.

“It’s an industry where, if you don’t see the wind turbines, you think, ‘Why should I get involved, or why should I care?'” said Bode, of the American Wind Energy Association.

“We’re trying to show them that the manufacturing jobs are coming (to the Southeast) because of improvements made at the port, the railroads, airport,” Bode said.

Challenges lie ahead. A federal production tax credit tied to wind farms is scheduled to expire at the end of 2012. Just the threat of the tax breaks going away has made it difficult for companies to make long-term decisions, wind energy proponents say.

State officials say they hope the 200 international wind energy manufacturers, developers and operators from countries including Brazil, Denmark, India and New Zealand will talk to them about doing business in Georgia during next week’s Windpower 2012 conference.

“We clearly believe having this wind power conference … will call attention to the industry,” said David Dunagan, statewide project manager with the Economic Development Department.

Germany and China will have the largest delegations, though a decision by the U.S. Commerce Department on Wednesday to place tariffs on Chinese wind tower suppliers has created tension between it and the United States.