In Sunshine State, Wind Generating Jobs, Not Power ... Yet
Around the State
Florida remains in the doldrums when it comes to generating wind power, but the wind industry is producing more jobs in the state, a national report shows.
The American Wind Energy Association reported Thursday that the Sunshine State is home to 15 plants manufacturing wind-power components for use elsewhere.
The facilities range from GE Energy's turbine manufacturing plant in Pensacola to Atlantic Bearings' power-transmission parts supplier in Doral.
A 16th company, turbine maker 5D, is set to crank up an assembly plant in Sarasota this year.
Though nearly 3,000 Florida workers are employed by these firms -- ranking the state ninth nationally in wind-power jobs -- their products and services are exported.
Like most of its neighbors in the sultry Southeast, Florida has yet to jump on the wind-farm bandwagon that's rolling across the country, AWEA said.
Mike Antheil, head of the Florida Alliance for Renewable Energy, says policy-makers in Tallahassee are holding wind and other clean energy back.
"Wind has a cost advantage over solar, but it has the same barriers of entry," he explains.
"Utilities won't buy the power at a reasonable price, and the Legislature makes sure you can't sell it to anyone."
AWEA says other states are spinning ahead.
"New wind projects represented 31 percent of all new energy capacity in 2011 -- second only to natural gas," said Liz Salerno, chief economist for the association.
Texas remained the No. 1 wind generator last year, installing 10,000 megawatts of the capacity, amounting to one-fourth of the nation's total. Ohio and Vermont were the fastest growing in percentage terms.
Ironically, Florida's largest utility, NextEra Energy (parent company of Florida Power & Light), is the country's largest owner of wind generators.
NextEra -- controlling 17.8 percent of the nation's total wind-power inventory -- has 8,340 megawatts under ownership, nearly double the next largest company, Iberdrola Renewables (at 4,727 megawatts).
NextEra added 378.5 megawatts last year. But, still, none of it is in Florida.
AWEA believes that Florida's time is coming -- if for no other reason than its steadily expanding component-manufacturing base.
"There's a growing hub of manufacturers as defense and marine sectors diversify into [wind] turbines. We're seeing companies transition into wind," said Denise Bode, chief executive officer of AWEA.
Although wind accounts for just 2.9 percent of America's current electrical supply, it generates 119.7 million megawatts -- enough to power 12 million homes.
South Dakota leads the nation in producing 22.3 percent of its electricity from wind. Texas is second at 6.9 percent.
Bode sees a steady growth curve ahead.
"The current lower natural gas prices are not sustainable. Our fuel costs nothing, and utilities can sign 20-year [wind] contracts at fixed prices. They're increasingly diversifying their portfolios," she said.
One company, Wind Capital Group, received a permit last month from Palm Beach County for what it hopes will be Florida's first full-scale wind farm.
Robin Saiz, project director for the international group based in St. Louis, said Sugarland Wind expects to generate 200 megawatts on 13,000 acres near Belle Glade.
The $350 million venture will produce electricity at a kilowatt rate that's 2.5 times cheaper than solar and a nickel less than biomass, Saiz estimated.
At those prices, he's confident that buyers will be lining up.
"We're talking to several customers. There's demand from large investor-owned utilities, as well as municipal power authorities," he said as the company awaits approval from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.
Meanwhile, Florida manufacturers continue to fuel the wind industry with supplies and services.
Inerjy, a machine builder based in Plantation, is developing a 56-kilowatt turbine that it hopes to bring to market by the end of the year.
"We see a niche market in wind, and a growing niche," said Inerjy managing director Jamie Schlinkmann.
Schlinkmann expects that Inerjy's initial installations -- other than the one at his company -- will be out of state. But, he added, "We're in conversations with Florida customers, too."
But there are clouds on the horizon.
A federal Production Tax Credit is slated to be phased out, and if that happens, some industry analysts predict that wind-power investment would plummet and the sector's workforce could be cut in half.
AWEA is lobbying hard to maintain the tax-credit program.
"This is the heart of an American success story," AWEA's Bode said. "With double-digit growth, [wind power] is the fastest-growing source of made-in-the-USA manufacturing jobs."
Contact Kenric Ward at email@example.com or at (772) 801-5341.