Acciona Windpower completes first 3-megawatt wind turbine

August 30, 2012 by  
Filed under Green Energy News

With wind energy advocates marked a new milestone at Acciona Windpower’s plant here, Wednesday’s celebratory mood was clouded by what many called “uncertainty” across the industry.

About 75 invited guests and a majority of Acciona’s 100 employees gathered inside the massive assembly plant to see the completion of the company’s first AW3000 wind turbine on American soil. Using an overhead crane, Acciona workers lifted the 3,000-pound cover to top off the 130-ton nacelle, to the applause of the audience.

“Everybody in this room is responsible for helping make this happen,” Acciona Windpower North America CEO Joe Baker told the employees, business partners, elected officials, economic development leaders and other business representatives. “This is the first of its kind to be built in North America and it’s going to be installed right here in Iowa.”

The new three-megawatt wind turbine will be one of two that Acciona will install at the Pioneer Grove Wind Farm it is developing nearby in Cedar County. The second turbine, which was built in Spain, where Acciona is headquartered, will join the one assembled in West Branch on a site near the town of Mechanicsville, Baker said.

Despite the achievement, it was the future of the wind power that weighed heavily on the minds of many in attendance. The ceremony’s guest speakers used the opportunity to call on Congress to move quickly to extend the Federal Production Tax Credit, which is due to expire at the end of the year.

The uncertainty, the company’s chief executive officer and others said, is causing a slowdown in the wind industry.

Heather Zichal, President Barack Obama’s deputy assistant for Energy and Climate Change and an Iowa native, said an extension is critical to keeping the state on its current track as a leader in the wind industry. In addition to having the nation’s second-highest percentage of electricity generated by wind — 20 percent, she said — “Iowa has more wind-related jobs than anywhere in the United States.”

The state employs about 6,000 people in the wind industry and half of its counties either generate wind energy or have related manufacturing, said Zichal, a native of Elkader.

In addition, the nation has been successful in turning what was a completely foreign-based supply chain into a domestic supply chain, she said. “Nearly 70 percent of the equipment installed in wind farms is made domestically now.”

Rep. Dave Loebsack, D-Iowa, whose 2nd Congressional District includes Acciona’s plant and its future wind farm, has seen the power of wind energy in Iowa with five wind manufacturers located in his district. In addition to Acciona, his district is home to TPI Composites and Trinity Structural Towers, both in Newton; Clipper Windpower in Cedar Rapids; and Seimens in Fort Madison. Across Iowa, he said more than 200 companies are involved in wind energy.

Loebsack agreed that Congress should be moving to extend the tax credit. “This is a no-brainer. This should have been done a long time ago,” he said, adding that the previous three-year extension was part of the stimulus package.

Acciona’s Baker said the tax credit uncertainty is causing a slowdown in orders for all wind energy suppliers. “This year, we have not heard of one order that any wind competitor has in the U.S., including us.”

“We can’t get a project across the finish line,” he said. However, Acciona is working on a significant Canadian order that will soon have the West Branch facility ramping up again.

But John Dunlop of the American Wind Energy Association echoed many of the same concerns over public policy. “We installed $20 billion of wind projects this year, but because of the scale back, next year does not look very good.”

He also pointed to the need for more transmission lines to be installed to move the wind energy. “Wind energy can’t be shipped,” Dunlop said.“Because we don’t have the transmission lines, we are being forced to abandon projects.”

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