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Incentives to pull in the industry -- Making it happen in Iowa

Iowa's determination to become a wind industry Mecca is strengthening by the month. Most recently it extended its state tax credit for wind projects by three years, hosted a supply-chain workshop to draw in manufacturers, and formed a wind energy partnership largely aimed at creating training courses.

"Iowa is the place to be when it comes to wind development now," says Michelle Kenyon Brown of the Iowa Renewable Energy Association. "We're number four in the nation but it doesn't entirely tell the whole story. We have government support for wind expansion on almost every level. We are up and coming."

The $0.01/kWh tax credit will now run until July 1, 2012. Importantly, it can also be transferred without limit so that project owners can sell the tax advantage to any number of partners. "Previously the law said once issued, a credit could be transferred only once," says John Pearce of the Iowa Utilities Board. "Now it's really transferable." The tax credit lasts ten years for projects in place by 2012 and is designed to complement wind's separate federal production tax credit.

With 1294 MW of wind plant online, Iowa is 5 MW behind neighbouring Minnesota for third place among the states. It has a voluntary goal of increasing its use of green energy to 25% of supply by 2025.

That will take a sizable workforce to achieve and the state is busy creating it. A new partnership, the Iowa Alliance for Wind Innovation and Novel Development, will unite community colleges, universities, the private sector, associations and community organisations, along with state, local and federal government officials to coordinate the wind research and education taking place within the state while promoting Iowa's role in the industry. One of the country's first wind industry training programs was established in 2004 at Iowa Lakes Community College (ILCC) in the northwest part of the state. Its initiator was Al Zietz, who spent ten years in the wind industry.

"I recognised the need when I was managing the Storm Lake project for GE," Zietz says, referring to one of the largest early American wind farms, originally built in Iowa by Enron and later extended by GE. "Trying to hire individuals to work on the project I found that ideal candidates were few and far between. So I recognised the need to put together a training program and got involved with the college."

Providing talent

Six community colleges and three Iowa universities have joined the alliance. Educational opportunities range from three-day training classes for industry employees to four-year masters-level programs and even PhDs.

"We're working on an agreement right now where students that are interested in pursuing engineering would move from our community college program right into a university program and continue their training as an engineer," Zietz says. "We would also like to have some input from the industry as to what their viewpoint is and how we can help."

Zietz says 126 people recently applied for 48 slots at ILCC alone. Graduates can expect to make upwards of $60,000 in annual salary. "These are good jobs," he says. "When you factor in overtime and travel incentives, I think $60,000 is fairly accurate. I've heard stories where travelling technicians are making well over that."

Attracting industry

The sold-out April wind power supply chain workshop in Des Moines was intended to bring more manufacturing to the state. "It was huge," says Brown. "More than 500 people were there. The governor came, as did representatives of every major wind company."

So far, Iowa hosts Clipper Windpower's turbine manufacturing plant in Cedar Rapids and Siemens opened a blade plant in Fort Madison last year. It is now doubling the factory's production capacity.

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