Renewable energy powers up Michigan manufacturing

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Capital News Service
LANSING – Michigan companies have hopped on the renewable energy bandwagon, which some state officials and company executives say is reviving the state’s manufacturing industry.
Thanks to a law requiring 10 percent of the state’s energy to be renewable by 2015 and a booming global market for renewable energy, Michigan manufacturers have expanded operations to include wind and solar energy development.
The Environmental Law and Policy Center, a Chicago-based environmental advocacy group, reported last spring that more than 200 Michigan companies supply the wind and solar energy industry. Those companies have created more than 10,000 jobs since 2008, when the renewable energy mandate was passed, the center reported.
Michigan companies have been making strides in renewable energy investments since before 2008, said Michael Shore, the director of corporate communications with the Michigan Economic Development Corp.
“None of this is particularly foreign to us anymore,” Shore said. “No other state in the U.S. is nearly as far along in this as we are.” Ohio has 169 wind and solar-related producers, Illinois has more than 100 wind-related companies and Iowa has more than 80 wind-related companies, according to reports from the Environmental Law and Policy Center.
While the state has attracted some outside companies for renewable energy, many existing firms have diversified production. Energetx Composites, a Holland boat manufacturing company, shifted from making boats to wind turbine blades. The composite materials boats are made from are also used in blades, said Mark Clevey, manager of consumer education and renewable energy programs with the Michigan Energy Office.
Many components involved in renewable energy production are already Michigan manufacturing specialties, so the jump to renewable energy manufacturing was easy, Clevey said.
“If you can make a car, you can make a wind machine,” he said.
Midland-based Dow Corning has invested $3 billion to produce cells for solar panels. That has created more than 1,500 jobs the past five years in Michigan, said Jarrod Erpelding, the director of communications for the company. The silicone materials Dow produces has made the company a major global player in solar energy, Clevey said.
Astraeus Wind Energy, a subsidiary of Dowding Industries and based in Eaton Rapids, assembles components for the hubs for wind turbines. Those are the massive boxes attached to the blade and pole of the turbine. In the past two years, the company added more than 50 jobs to its plants in Eaton Rapids and Port Huron, said Steve Taber, the plant manager for Astraeus.
If Astraeus secures permission to build a new foundry in Eaton Rapids, providing the company the ability to cast the frames of the hubs, it could produce an economic boom, Taber said.
“If this foundry goes up, we’re talking hundreds of jobs,” he said. “Eaton Rapids will no longer be as small as it is.” The construction of the foundry is still up in the air. Taber said Astraeus needs to finalize its plans with investors and the town.
While many company executives stopped short of saying renewable energy would fully revive Michigan’s economy, the state’s manufacturing and innovation legacy has still led to significant investment in renewable energy, Clevey said.
“Michigan’s capability is to take raw materials and process them into durable goods, and do it better, faster and cheaper than our competitors,” he said. “Will that give our companies a competitive advantage in a marketplace that is growing globally? I’d say there are an awful lot of people betting yes.”
© 2011, Capital News Service, Michigan State University School of Journalism. Nonmembers cannot reproduce CNS articles without written permission.

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