West Branch Wind Power Company Completes Milestone, But Industry Troubles Linger
By Dave Franzman, Reporter
WEST BRANCH, Iowa - An eastern Iowa wind power company celebrated a major production milestone on Wednesday. But the completion of a new AW-3000 wind turbine at Acciona Windpower in West Branch comes amid tough times and uncertainty for the whole industry.
The new wind turbine at Acciona is capable of producing 3 MW (megawatts) of power. It’s twice the size of the models produced currently at the West Branch plant that opened in 2008. During a ceremony to mark completion of the first production unit, company officials said the more powerful, more efficient wind turbines should drive new sales. But, even during the celebration, there was a note of concern about the wind power industry and a production tax credit that expires December 31st.
Acciona celebrated the completion by connecting the upper and lower halves of the turbine assembly in front of a crowd of both workers and invited guests.
Micah Marsh, a production team leader, said the new wind turbine is one of the biggest developments at the plant since it opened. And he added it would be a shame if current woes in the industry derail the technological progress.
“We’d almost be taking a step back if something did not happen,” Marsh said.
That “something” Marsh referred to is the expiration of the tax credit for utilities that produce electricity by wind power. It expires on December 31st and the lack of Congressional action on an extension is having a ripple effect through the wind power industry. Last week, Clipper Windpower announced plans to cut nearly one third of its workforce nationwide. Seventy six of those job losses will impact a manufacturing facility in Cedar Rapids.
John Dunlop, a senior technical program manager with the American Wind Energy Association, told the crowd at Acciona that sales of wind energy equipment in 2012 should set a record with orders worth as much as $20-billion dollars. Dunlop said the increase this year, in part, is due to the expiring tax credit. But Dunlop said without an extension, the bottom will fall out next year.
“For 2013, because the production tax credits will expire, it makes a dramatic impact on the cost of alternative energy. We’re looking at $20-billion dollars dropping down to $2-billion next year,” Dunlop said.
Acciona CEO Joe Baker said his company is aware of the issues with future business and the lack of a guaranteed tax credit. One plan, involving the new, larger wind turbines, is to look for business outside the U.S.
“For the next 18 months, two years, we’ll ship to Canada, Mexico and possibly South America to support other projects,” Baker said.
The new AW-3000 completed in West Branch will be paired with another produced at company headquarters in Spain. Both of those wind turbines will be installed at the Pioneer Grove Wind Farm located near Mechanicsville in Cedar County.
As for plans for Congress to take up the wind energy tax credit, Congresman Dave Loebsack told the group the U.S. House has only 13 days of debate scheduled between now and November 6th. And he doesn’t expect a serious attempt to get a credit extension through the House until after the general election.
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