Friday, March 12, 2010 | 2:01 a.m.
Southern Nevada, long in the hunt for a new source of jobs and for companies that can boost the state’s stature in the renewable energy industry, can claim both with Thursday’s announcement that an international manufacturer of wind turbines plans to establish its first American plant here.
The 320,000-square-foot facility is expected to be ready for operation by the end of 2011, creating more than 1,000 permanent jobs and adding leverage to Nevada’s argument that the state can play host to renewable energy companies as competition for them escalates.
This project comes as something of a surprise, however, because the manufacturing plant will build and assemble components for wind turbines that will be shipped out of state to customers in North and South America where wind farms are a growing fixture on the landscape.
Most of Nevada’s efforts to develop an alternative energy industry have focused on solar energy.
“It’s alternative energy, which is great, but that it’s manufacturing makes it double great,” said Somer Hollingsworth, president of the Nevada Development Authority. “They hire more people longer term and the wages are generally high and the benefits tend to be better. So we’re very excited about it.”
Thursday’s news was announced by an international consortium composed of the private equity company U.S. Renewable Energy Group, Chinese manufacturer A-Power Energy Generation Systems and Southern Nevada developer American Nevada Company. (American Nevada is owned by The Greenspun Corporation, which also owns the Las Vegas Sun.)
Consortium members lauded Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid for his role in landing the project in Nevada.
When Reid learned of plans by the investor and A-Power to build a wind turbine manufacturing plant in the United States, “he told us that Nevada was poised to be at the epicenter of America’s commitment to renewable energy technology,” said Ed Cunningham, managing partner of U.S. Renewable Energy Group. “This multimillion-dollar investment in Nevada will further advance the Senate majority leader’s clean energy initiatives while allowing out-of-work Nevadans to re-enter the workforce in high-paying, stable, green jobs.”
Jinxiang Lu, CEO and chairman of A-Power, said the decision to locate the assembly plant in Nevada to serve North and South America was based on Reid’s “vision for the development of clean energy industries in his home state, Nevada’s position relative to the major wind corridors, and the strength and sophistication of Nevada’s skilled workforce.”
Wind energy is one of the most popular renewable energy resources in the U.S. because it is less expensive and less financially risky than solar energy, and less site-specific than geothermal energy and hydro power.
The Energy Department estimated, even before the Obama administration’s green energy platform was laid out, that by 2030, 20 percent of America’s electricity will come from wind farms.
A-Power has a contract to build turbines for a large wind farm in Texas that had been criticized for its apparent plans to use machines manufactured outside the country. By manufacturing and assembling its product in Nevada, the company is more palatable to publicity-sensitive American wind developers, wind energy experts say.
“We are committed to clean energy development and this partnership, which will allow us to expand our presence in the American renewable energy sector and create over a thousand jobs in Nevada,” said A-Power Director John Lin. “A-Power highly values the opportunities in renewable energy in America.”
China is the world leader in manufacturing for all types of renewable energy components.
Until the past five years, the American wind energy manufacturing industry was comparatively tiny and focused on assembly or single components, said Elizabeth Salerno of the American Wind Energy Association.
Nevada will join Colorado as among the first states in the West to host utility-scale wind turbine manufacturing facilities. There are nine major wind turbine manufacturing plants in the United States, most of them in Iowa. Many of the other large manufacturing plants planned in the U.S. will be built in the Southeast, said Christine Real de Azua, spokeswoman for the wind energy trade organization.
“Where a manufacturer locates has a lot to do with how competitive the state is,” Azua said.
Las Vegas is far from the expected wind power boom states like Wyoming and Texas, and its tax incentives mirror those of many other states.
But Reid played the role of recruiter, drawing on his work with the industry. He was recently named National Solar Energy Champion of the year by the Solar Energy Industries Association and has introduced important renewable energy legislation.
Reid’s courting of U.S. Renewable Energy Group and A-Power was key to the state getting this facility, several parties close to the decision said.
“This development is being sited here because of Harry Reid’s commitment to Nevada and to green energy,” said Bruce Deifik, president of The Greenspun Corporation. “Developing the renewable energy industry in Nevada is a dream of his, and he’s worked hard to make this first step toward realizing that dream.”
American Nevada is looking to purchase up to 1,000 acres of land to develop a clean energy campus large enough to allow expansion of its partners’ facility as well as to accommodate similar projects, Deifik said.
The company is finalizing site criteria and is looking at private and Bureau of Land Management land on the valley floor for the plant, American Nevada Senior Vice President Dan Naef said.
“We’ve been around this town for a long time,” Naef said. “We know what’s available, it’s just a matter of determining what best meets our needs.”
Nevada has long been overlooked by manufacturers in favor of states such as New Mexico and Oregon with established high-tech manufacturing industries.
With this plant’s success, however, other developers’ doubts about workforce, permitting and transportation are more easily overcome, experts say.
“The clean energy industry is the future of Nevada,” Reid said. “I urged A-Power to choose our state as the site for the plant because I believe Nevada can be a world leader in clean energy. This industry will help us create jobs immediately, while diversifying our state’s economy for the long term.”