By EDITH ZHOU
Capital News Service
LANSING –Michigan manufacturers employ 498,000 people, and more than 20,700 of them are in the alternative energy industry.
According to the Michigan Manufacturers Association, these alternative energy production jobs account for 4.1 percent of all manufacturing jobs.
The state Bureau of Labor Market Information counted less than 9,000 jobs in the alternative energy industry in 2009. The number of jobs grew by 133 percent in three years, partly because Michigan is home to the continent’s largest lithium ion battery manufacturer.
The bureau found the wind energy industry is the biggest economic winner among renewable energy technologies. Michigan has become a manufacturing powerhouse for that industry.
The number of manufacturers in the wind energy market has grown from a handful in 2004 to 120, and those companies pay more than $3 million in annual property taxes, association figures show.
Association President Chuck Hadden said the state needs to build another 240 wind farms to meet the current law which requires Michigan to generate 10 percent of its electricity by 2014 with renewable energy.
“To fulfill the 25 by 25 project, we have to build 4,000 altogether,” he said. The association opposes the November ballot proposal which would require Michigan to generate 25 percent of its electricity by renewable energy by 2025.
“Where could we put those windmills if the ballot gets passed?” Hadden said.
The American Wind Energy Association reports that 0.3 percent of Michigan’s power was provided by wind in 2010 and 3,000-4,000 direct and indirect jobs were supported by those wind farms.
Like most cutting-edge technologies, the renewable energy industry still accounts for only a small percentage of the U.S. manufacturing sector.
The 25 by 25 ballot proposal would be a “job-creating machine” that doubles the number of green jobs in the state, according to a new study by the Michigan State University Land Policy Institute.
Its report said that the $10.3 billion investment in renewable energy that would be required by the proposed 25 mandate could create 74,495 job years, — one year of full time employment for one person — in Michigan in the construction, operations and maintenance fields.
However, Hadden disagreed with the report’s estimate, calling it exaggerated.
“Based on our figures, the ballot proposal would only create 75,000 jobs nationally. After all the construction’s done, the jobs would definitely decrease,” he said.
Hadden also said that since natural gas prices keep falling, electricity produced by wind farms would cost customers more.
But John Sarver, executive director of Great Lakes Renewable Energy Association, said, “It is true that there would be fewer jobs after all the construction is finished since fewer people are needed for maintenance.”
However, Michigan could continue manufacturing alternative energy equipment and “export them to the world. Then the manufacturing jobs would keep increasing,” he said.
Rebecca Roberts, the executive manager of Astraeus, a manufacturer of wind energy components in Eaton Rapids, said the ballot proposal is not the key point for her industry.
“It would naturally cause wind energy growth if it passed. However, our issue is actually the federal production tax credit. If it is not extended by the end of year, all the wind farms would shut down because we could have problems with finances,” she said.
The MSU study says Michigan ranks second in the nation for manufacturing potential coupled with renewable energy resources.
Hugh McDiarmid Jr., communication director of the Michigan Environmental Council, said, “Renewable energy is a growth industry globally, nationally and in Michigan. Michigan has the talent, manufacturing capacity and skills to be a national leader in this field.”
By EDITH ZHOU