Wind energy is a thriving industry, its advocates claim, and it's looking for the right place to grow.
Guests from both the American Wind Energy Association and West Fargo-based construction firm Wanzek met with the Herald's editorial board for roughly an hour Thursday to discuss wind energy. To hear them tell it, wind is a growing industry poised to bring jobs to the right markets-so long as the environment's right.
"Look at companies like Xcel Energy," John Hensley, a representative of AWEA, said shortly after the meeting. "They're moving very quickly forward on renewables. If they're not going to do it here, they're going to neighboring Minnesota, down to South Dakota, Iowa. It makes sense. The economics of these projects make sense, and companies are going to be taking advantage of that going forward."
Hensley offered a Wyoming tax law that stifles wind development as an example to avoid in the midst of the growing industry-one that he said has expanded by leaps and bounds to serve roughly 5.5 percent today. In North Dakota, he said, there's a "tremendous wind resource" for the industry to capitalize upon.
Evan Vaughan, Hensley's colleague, pointed out the number of manufacturing jobs the industry helps generate. Grand Forks' LM Windpower plant is one such example.
"If you want to talk about bringing manufacturing jobs to the heartland, wind is doing that," Vaughan said.
The conversation comes amid concerns over the wind industry in Bismarck. Sen. Dwight Cook, R-Mandan, has expressed concern the growth of wind energy is happening at the expense of the coal industry, and legislators have considered significantly tightening permits on new wind installations.
Hensley pressed back against concerns with the wind industry. He told Herald leadership the federal tax incentives for wind are being phased down as other energy industries continue to receive such incentives.
"We're still only 5.5 percent of the grid, so the ability of the industry at this point to make these massive swings in the sector is still a bit of a stretch of an argument to make," he said.
Arnold Jalinek, vice president of Wanzek, added that wind power construction makes up a sizeable portion of his company's business.
"When you take a look at all of the different energy-generating sources, wind has played an important role up to this point, and we see it playing an important role in the future," he said. "To phase it out would hurt our energy independence, is why we're continuing to support it."
Hensley said Thursday's stop at the Herald comes after a similar visit with media in the Twin Cities before a meeting with the Bismarck Tribune. The meetings coincide with a release of the AWEA's annual market report for the industry.