By Rob Moritz , Arkansas News Bureau
Little Rock, Arkansas – Governor Mike Beebe pledged state support today to keep wind power manufacturers planted in Arkansas, but officials said a more stable federal policy would really help their industry take flight.
Speaking at a meeting of the American Wind Energy Association, Beebe said the state is committed to helping windmill blade manufacturers grow in the state. “We may not produce as much hot air as Texas, or Oklahoma or Kansas,” the governor joked, “but we’ll give them all the stuff they need to make the wind industry work.”
Industry officials lauded Arkansas’ efforts and said they also were committed to the state. They complained the popularity of wind energy changes with the political winds in Washington, D.C., and urged Congress to adopt more incentives to help the industry grow.
“We’re looking for a long-term stable policy,” said Susan Williams Sloan, outreach manager with the American Wind Energy Association.
Current proposed federal legislation seeks a 6 percent increase in wind-generated power by 2012, which Sloan said should be higher.
“If you want to be able to drive the growth and create more demand … we need higher near-term targets,” she said.
Since 2007, when the Legislature passed financial incentives for windmill blade manufacturers and related companies that locate in Arkansas, three companies have opened manufacturing plants in the state and three more have announced plans to build here.
“We are here to stay,” said Randy Fox, vice president and general manager of LM Glasfiber North America, the first windmill blade manufacturer to open a facility in Little Rock.
The plant, which began manufacturing wind mill blades in February 2008, has already hired and trained more than 600 employees and potentially could add another 1,000, Fox said.
He said more than 1,000 blades have already been manufactured in Arkansas and the company has invested more than $100 million in the state.
Despite the down economy and the layoffs of more than 200 employees, Fox said he has high hopes for LM Glasfiber’s future Arkansas
“I’m optimistic,” he said.
Ralf Sigrist, president and CEO of Nordex USA, which plans open a $100 million turbine manufacturing plant in Jonesboro next year, also spoke highly of the state and said Arkansas’ “gentle winds” are similar to the winds in Germany and could possibly be harnessed for energy with windmills.