DES MOINES — Last week, Power Up Iowa hosted a panel discussion in celebration of Manufacturing Month.
The virtual event, “Renewable Energy: Building American Industry and Iowa’s Future,” featured local leaders and industry experts who shared how the growth of Iowa’s wind and solar energy manufacturing sectors are connected to a modernized grid, as well as how more in-state renewable energy sources will continue to create jobs, grow the state’s economy and bolster the American manufacturing sector, especially as nation looks to rebuild during post-COVID-19 recovery efforts.
Iowa has seen significant growth in renewable energy development in recent years, which has resulted in nearly 11,000 Iowans employed by the wind and solar industries alone. Wind turbine technicians and solar panel installers are two of the top three fastest growing job categories in America, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, proving that green collar jobs provide career opportunities that will last long into the future. Additionally, 21 manufacturing facilities in the state are dedicated to producing components for renewable energy infrastructure and are primarily located in rural communities.
“We are extremely fortunate to have embraced the power of wind energy decades ago, and we have developed a renewable energy ecosystem supported by manufacturers, developers, businesses and educational programs,” said Brian Selinger, Team Lead of the Iowa Energy Office with the Iowa Economic Development Authority. “Further embracing a booming solar industry and investing in the expansion of our energy grid will be a leading factor in attracting additional investments to our state, improving Iowa’s job market and bolstering local economies.”
Renewable energy and the manufacturing, infrastructure and technology that goes with it is and will continue to be an essential driver of American industry, Iowa’s workforce and economic recovery.
In order to advance Iowa’s position as a leader of renewable energy, expanding and upgrading transmission lines are needed, which will also help to advance efficiency and reliability of renewables. The future growth of in-state renewable energy manufacturing relies on an expansive and modern Midwest electricity grid to meet the demands of the 21st century.
“By expanding and improving upon the energy grid, we can reap the benefits of Iowa’s clean energy boom as a result of both wind and solar resources,” said James McCalley, Professor in Electrical and Computer Engineering and lead faculty of the Wind Energy, Science, Engineering, and Policy (WESEP) Ph. D. Program at Iowa State University. “Iowa has turned from an energy importer to an energy exporter, which opens many possibilities for further growth in our state.”
Wind is now the number one source of energy in Iowa, with 42% of the electricity Iowa generates coming from wind energy projects. Iowa ranks second in the nation for wind energy as a share of total electricity generation, creating enough energy to power the equivalent of 2.4 million homes.
TPI Composites, a wind turbine blade manufacturer, received national attention after the washing machine company Maytag announced it was closing its doors in 2007. In response, TPI Composites took over the original facility and today supports more than 1,000 manufacturing jobs as a worldwide leader in building wind turbine blades.
“The Federal Investment and Production Tax Credits have provided TPI stability and a strong environment to grow,” said Josh Syhlman, General Manager of TPI Composites. “Though COVID-19 has presented its share of challenges, the renewable energy sector is uniquely position for growth nationwide, while providing new opportunities and jobs for rural communities.”
The Iowa solar energy industry is rapidly growing as well, with more than 50 companies in the state working in the industry, including manufacturers. Over the next five years Iowa expects to nearly triple the amount of solar power installed in the state.
“Vermeer has benefited greatly from the growth of renewables, allowing our company footprint to expand with the increasing demand for renewable energy projects,” said Doug Hundt, President of Industrial Solutions for Vermeer. “Vermeer stands ready to support the state and the renewable energy sector by providing the tools needed to build and expand Iowa’s economy.”
To date, wind and solar energy have attracted nearly $20 billion in new investment to the state. The growth of the two industries has largely been driven by falling costs in recent years, with the cost of wind energy has declining by 69% since 2009 and the cost of solar energy falling 38% in the last five years.
“Iowa’s utilities are leading the way with investment in renewable energy technology and storage, which will advance efficiency and reliability to better serve communities and businesses,” said Chaz Allen, Executive Director for the Iowa Utilities Association. “Expansion of our energy grid would serve to fuel Iowa’s economy and energy independence.”