The decision of two major companies to form a joint venture to construct towers for wind turbines at a new facility in Cheyenne demonstrates another way for Wyoming to build on its vast potential to capitalize on developing this vital renewable resource.
Some shortsighted critics mistakenly contend that the wind energy industry is nothing but a fad, destined to fade whenever large government subsidies go away. Unfortunately, that argument was successfully used to persuade lawmakers to kill a bill to revise the state's new wind excise tax, which likely would have encouraged companies to build new wind projects in Wyoming.
But all of the signs nationally indicate that wind will indeed play an important role in fulfilling our energy needs for a long time.
A federal analysis conducted by the National Renewable Energy Laboratory recently examined the economic impact of Wyoming wind energy development, construction of the power lines needed to transport electricity out of state, and the growth of natural gas power generation, which is commonly used to back up wind energy sources.
The report concluded that during the next decade, that development may create 47,000 jobs, pay $2.6 billion in wages and benefits and pump $5.1 billion into the state’s economy.
With 20 years of operation, the study estimated total Wyoming economic activity from wind energy investments would range between $12 billion and $15 billion.
That analysis didn't even take into account the kind of manufacturing jobs that will now be coming to Wyoming. Other states, especially Iowa, have been reaping the economic benefits of wind equipment manufacturing for several years. Wyoming has longed to get into this profitable game, and now it is, thanks to the laudable efforts of state officials and the capital city's economic development group to land a $40 million plant in Cheyenne.
The facility will be built by the Worthington Energy Group and Gestamp Renewables. Company officials said Tuesday that they plan to begin producing up to 300 towers per year by early 2012. The joint venture intends to hire about 150 workers for the plant.
The importance of this new development over both the short- and long-term was stressed by Gov. Matt Mead, who said the companies decided to build in Cheyenne after sizing up Wyoming's pro-business environment.
"The wonderful thing about this, and the wonderful thing about the location, is they are going to be a lighthouse, a magnet, for other manufacturing companies and other distribution companies to come to Wyoming," the governor said.
It's certainly true that where business goes, other businesses tend to follow.
Mead noted that Wyoming has a manufacturing sales tax exemption and also plans to back the project by issuing $150 million in industrial revenue bonds.
The state will put up $400,000 for job training. Wyoming workers will receive specialized training in Europe at plants that are now building the towers.
If other manufacturing companies choose to locate in Wyoming, perhaps our community colleges will expand their own wind energy training programs.
A key to how much of the economic growth related to the wind industry stays within the state largely depends on how many of the trained workers and goods needed for the development come from within the state.
“There’s a lot of room for Wyoming to capture greater opportunity from this (wind development),” said Eric Lantz, a research analyst at the National Renewable Energy Laboratory.
The announcement about the new manufacturing plant in Cheyenne is the latest indication that far from being the creator of a few temporary jobs, the wind industry is poised to contribute significantly to the state's economy. It's essential that the state's leaders come to agree on that goal, and work to make it a reality.