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Iowa Wind Alliance is good news for turbine-rich BV area

Thursday, May 1, 2008

Gov. Chet Culver announced Wednesday the creation of an alliance to train Iowans for high-paying jobs in the growing wind energy industry.

Culver said the newly formed Iowa Alliance for Wind Innovation and Novel Development will combine research, public policy, and training and education.

"It is the key to producing a skilled, productive work force by developing a constant stream of new, well-trained workers that can hit the ground running their first day on the job," Culver said.

The news is positive for northwest Iowa, where several large wind energy projects have established on and around the high, windly Buffalo Ridge plain in the Storm Lake/Fonda regions.

The area is considered ripe for further development is enough grid can be created to move the energy.

Iowa ranks fourth in the nation in wind power capacity, according to a report by the American Wind Energy Association. Iowa also has four of the 13 wind energy plants that either opened or were announced last year, including those in Keokuk, Fort Madison, Newton and West Branch.

Iowa has set a goal of increasing the amount of electricity generated by renewable sources to 25 percent by 2025.

The alliance will include the state's three public universities and community colleges, which will work together to expand offerings in wind technology programs.

Culver cited a wind energy program at Iowa Lakes Community College in Estherville, which he said used to be the only school in the U.S. that offered courses in wind energy technology.

There were 14 students in the program in 2004. The school has received 107 applications for next fall, Culver said.

Graduates can make up to $60,000 a year with a two-year associates degree, he said.

"These are really good jobs with fantastic wages and great opportunities for young Iowans hoping to be successful in the future," Culver said.

Randall Swisher, the executive director of the American Wind Energy Association, offered his support to the alliance.

Swisher, who grew up in Atlantic and attended the University of Iowa, said the state's central location, strong transportation network and its strategic economic development program are keys to its wind energy success.

"They've spent a lot of time evaluating and analyzing this industry, figuring out what the opportunities are and pursuing them in a very strategic way," Swisher said. "No one compares with what Iowa is doing ... and it shows in the results."

The continued growth of wind energy, according to industry officials, is largely dependent on the extension of the federal renewable energy production tax credit, which provides benefits to renewable energy facilities for their first 10 years of operation. The tax credit is scheduled to expire at the end of this year.

In a speech to wind energy officials, Culver urged them to press Congress to renew the tax credit.

Swisher said he believes Congress will find a way to extend the credit.

"There's very strong support from both Democrats and Republicans on this issue," Swisher said. "What they're arguing about is how to pay for it, and that's challenging.

"It will not lapse," he said.

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