Op-Ed: Don’t slow clean energy job growth in the Heartland

Source: By Jim Mikel, Des Moines Register • Posted: Friday, November 10, 2017

Iowa is a national leader in wind power, ranking in the top 3 nationally for capacity, power produced and number of turbines. Kelsey Kremer/The Register

After spending more than 33 years working in the wind and aviation industry — including working at Zond, Enron Wind, and later GE Wind — it was clear to me that wind energy was here to stay in the Midwest.

In 2009, I started a wind services company, RENEW Energy, in the heart of wind country, Sioux Falls, S.D. Since then, I’ve seen the industry grow and prosper, providing reliable, pollution-free energy and, more important, stable, good-paying jobs for Americans throughout the Midwest. I recently joined the Advisory Board of New Energy America to help spread the word about clean energy jobs in rural America.

The success of the wind industry in the middle of the country is due mostly to its solid economics, and the technological improvements we’ve seen over the last decade have only improved the situation. Wind energy is now the cheapest source of energy in many states, making it the common-sense choice when new electricity is needed. This is obviously great news for ratepayers and cleaner air, but it’s also vital to the economic well-being of my neighbors in rural America.

In my company, we proudly employ rural Americans with wind occupations — technicians, engineers and executives, among many other jobs, in communities across the nation where wind is a real economic force. In fact, wind turbine technicians are the fastest growing jobs in the U.S. There are nearly 1,500 Americans employed by the wind industry in South Dakota, more than the oil industry. Wind employment in neighboring states is also growing: 1,740 in North Dakota, 3,859 in Iowa, almost 2,000 in Minnesota, and 1,981 in Kansas.

While clean energy is the cheapest option for new generation, the older existing plants that are generally already paid off can still make money for their owners. Wind will continue to grow here — the resource is simply too good to pass up — but if we’re going to capture the true potential this region has, and share the economic benefits widely, we have to maintain the certainty that investors need to build the next generation of wind farms.

Despite the great resources that the Midwest has, some states risk falling behind because they have not focused on the benefits to their citizens of replacing resources with new non-polluting ones, and therefore are not seeing the local job growth others are taking advantage of in the transition. They have catching up to do, and could greatly benefit from more favorable policies.

I am very supportive of a balanced approach to energy; this means providing certainty to the business community to allow them to make investments into cheaper and cleaner energy resources. With smart policy support, we could see this already booming industry get to the next level by opening new markets in the wind-rich states of the Midwest, beyond taking care of their own energy needs. Iowa, a wind leader in the country, holds the potential to generate more cheap wind energy than it can use, building the foundation for economic growth there and supplying less expensive power to neighboring states.

Jim Mikel is the president of RENEW Energy, a wind power servicing company based in Sioux Falls, S.D.