Region strives to be wind energy hub

Firms, development groups intensify focus on industry

By Aaron Corvin, Columbian port & economy reporter

Published:

 

A wind energy supply chain is emerging in the Portland-Vancouver region as manufacturers and economic development agencies step up efforts to win a growing piece of the global wind energy market.

Most of the wind turbines in the U.S. are imported from foreign manufacturers, largely in China and Europe. Yet, regional wind energy boosters hope to make the Portland-Vancouver region a hub for the manufacture, installation, repair and maintenance of wind energy components.

The work to get there is under way.

For example, Renewable Energy Composite Solutions (RECS), a spinoff company of Vancouver-based Christensen Shipyards that makes components for the wind and wave energy industries, recently landed a multimillion-dollar contract with another company to build wind turbine blades.

Joe Foggia, managing director and partner for RECS, declined to reveal details of the contract. But he said the Portland-Vancouver region is well ahead of other areas in renewables, including wind energy. “There’s a lot of potential here,” he said.

Meanwhile, EnergyWorks, an Annapolis, Md.-based company that focuses on wind power, bio power and energy infrastructure management, opened an office in Vancouver in February. The office, which employs 150 full-time technicians, focuses primarily on the installation and maintenance of wind farms in the Pacific Northwest.

Explaining why EnergyWorks set up a shop in Vancouver, Lisa Schmidt, public affairs and governmental services manager for the company, said: “There’s enough wind energy work here to make it sustainable for EnergyWorks to be here.”

Meanwhile, regional economic development agencies, including the Columbia River Economic Development Council and the Portland Development Commission, are offering companies renewable energy training programs and are talking up the region at global wind power trade shows.

In May, for example, a team of Portland and Vancouver area businesses and public officials attended the Windpower 2011 trade show in California — one of the world’s largest annual wind energy events. The Pacific Northwest Wind Team, aimed at developing regional networking among wind industry suppliers and at producing business leads, attended the same trade show last year.

The private sector participants in this year’s trade show were Columbia Machine Inc. of Vancouver; Premier Gear, Evraz, Energetic Drives and Aimco, all of Portland; Miles Fiberglass in Clackamas County, Ore.; and Axiom Electronics from Beaverton, Ore.

Anne Mangan, a spokeswoman for the Portland Development Commission, which is helping spearhead the effort to grow the region’s wind energy supply chain, said it’s too early to tell whether contacts made at the trade show will translate into business deals.

But that’s the hope, she said, and the networking alone is invaluable for the region’s long-term strategy to secure a piece of the wind energy industry.

Bryan Goodman, vice president of manufacturing operations for Columbia Machine, said the company made contacts with other businesses “that would be good targets” for a division of Columbia Machine that makes parts for small to mid-size wind turbine suppliers.

“We’re doing follow-up with those companies right now,” Goodman said.

A number of hurdles

Mangan said the environment for building up the wind energy supply chain in Washington and Oregon is favorable, noting that the two states have renewable-energy portfolio mandates.

However, there are hurdles.

Schmidt of EnergyWorks, who also attended last month’s wind energy trade show, said the nation lacks a comprehensive renewable energy policy. Moreover, she said, leaders in wind energy must negotiate on the federal level for production tax credits on an annual basis.

By contrast, the oil and gas industries enjoy built-in tax breaks and long-standing building permit procedures, among other advantages, Schmidt said. “We still have quite a bit of work to do because the industry is so young.”

Global wind power generation exceeded 200 billion kilowatt-hours in 2008 — equivalent to the annual electricity consumption of more than 18 million average households in the U.S., according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration.

Wind power is expected to grow worldwide because of “favorable government policies,” according to the EIA. However, the world still generated less than 1 percent of its total electricity from wind power in 2008.

Nevertheless, Foggia, the managing director and partner for Renewable Energy Composite Solutions, said business in the wind industry and in other renewables looks bright.

In addition to the contract RECS recently secured, Foggia said, the company is in the bidding process “with some very large wind turbine companies to build different aspects of their product.”