WATERLOO — Wind-energy proponents talk about the jobs in Iowa that turbines will power.
But the wind-energy industry is still a fraction of the state’s workforce. Iowa had only 3,323 jobs directly linked to wind power as of March 31, according to Iowa Workforce Development, or IWD.
Iowa’s total workforce is around 1.5 million, according to IWD.
But wind-related employment since 2007 has increased 66 percent, from 1,937 to the current 3,223. Most notable in that increase is the number of workers in the turbine/turbine manufacturing area, which increased from 388 in 2007 to 1,830 as of last March. That’s a 372 percent jump.
By comparison, U.S. coal mining in Iowa accounted for 1,860 jobs in 2009, for a combined payroll of $50 million, according to the National Mining Association, which also noted that coal provided 72.2 percent of Iowa’s electric power generation in 2009. Iowa used 23.3 million short tons of coal to generate 37.49 billion kilowatt hours of electricity.
Total employment in wind energy is not expected to grow dramatically in the near future, according to Kerry Koonce, an IWD spokeswoman.
“Projections say that growth will probably be flat for awhile as the state is pretty saturated,” Koonce said. “This could change if other types of alternative energy outputs falter.”
IWD also notes that the workforce in the Industrial Equipment Repair category was 3,329 at the end of March, but that includes all repairs.
Nevertheless, the potential for job growth is there, said Mark Douglas, executive director of the Iowa Utilities Association.
“It’s an interesting prospect,” he said. “They’re good jobs.”
There aren’t a lot of them now, Douglas said, but his organization is still working with community colleges to add training programs for the positions that seem certain to come.
“There’s probably eight to 12 jobs at a wind farm; they’re good, clean jobs,” he said. “They take a certain set of skills sets.”
But he also said that the numbers and concentrations of jobs won’t rival a typical manufacturing plant.
Jake West, wind specialist with VanWall Energy, a Perry-based company that installs small-wind turbines on hog and other farming operations, agreed.
“Small-wind, so far, isn’t manufactured in Iowa,” he said. “Obviously, in the large-wind, they are in Newton. From our standpoint, we’re employing electricians, construction people, subcontractors for installation and they’re hiring workers.”
Iowa has 80 wind installations and more than 50 manufacturers in the wind supply chain, including two large turbine assemblers and two blade and three tower and lift manufacturers. Professional service businesses throughout the state also have expanded to meet the demand from the wind industry. Among the most talked-about is Acciona Windpower, which in 2007 opened a $30 million wind turbine generator assembly plant in West Branch.
Component assembly is a growing industry in Iowa as well. TPI Composites, a supplier of composite wind turbine blades, opened a plant in Newton in November 2008 and has more than 450 employees. Siemens Wind operates a 600,000-square-foot wind turbine blade manufacturing plant in Fort Madison and employs nearly 600, 65 percent of whom previously worked at companies in the area that closed or downsized. Trinity Structural Towers has 140 employees in Newton and was opened in 2008 in a former Maytag plant. The company fabricates tubular wind towers and, through its parent and affiliated companies, provides steel turbine components, concrete and aggregates, product transportation and specialized coatings.
Other companies have positioned themselves to meet market needs in the wind-energy supply chain. Among them is Power Engineering & Manufacturing in Waterloo, which designs and manufactures custom gear boxes and component parts. The company has 60 employees and is targeting the wind industry as a potential sector for growth.
Tina Potthoff, a spokeswoman for MidAmerican Energy Co., which says wind will comprise 26 percent of its energy portfolio by the end of 2011, estimated that every 10 to 15 wind turbines brings one maintenance and one supervisory job.