Last week I had the opportunity to travel to Chicago for WINDPOWER 2013: the American Wind Energy Association’s annual conference and trade show.
As a conference volunteer, my primary responsibility was to administer surveys to representatives of fifty different companies that manufacture components for wind turbines here in the United States. There are approximately 8,000 parts in a wind turbine, and about two-thirds of those parts are sourced from manufacturing plants located in the U.S.
Over the course of three days, I spoke with representatives of companies that manufacture nacelles, towers, bearings, lighting, and what seemed like everything in between.
The characteristics of the manufacturing plants and their parent companies varied. Some supply parts exclusively to the wind industry, whereas for others, the wind industry represents only 5% of their business.
Some are owned by American companies, others represent investments by German, Spanish, Danish, or companies based in other European countries.
Finally, some employ hundreds of people, whereas others have fewer than a dozen employees in their operation. This wide range of companies constitutes a diverse supply chain that employs approximately 75,000 Americans and is part-by-part transitioning our country to a clean energy economy.
There’s a saying that if you don’t know where you’ve come from, you won’t know where you’re going. In between collecting the manufacturing surveys, I took a field trip to the headquarters of S&C Electric, a century-old company that builds “switchgear” that helps wind farms move their power to the grid.
My grandfather spent 42 years — almost his entire career — working for S&C, and my dad, aunts, uncle, and grandmother spent summers working there, too. I’d been interested in visiting their Chicago plant ever since learning they were involved with the wind industry. It was great last week to have that chance and have a piece of my family’s history come full circle.
I can’t speak for the other nearly 10,000 attendees at WINDPOWER 2013, but I left the conference feeling educated, energized and ready to return to Clean Currents. While we don’t actually build wind projects (yet!), the RECs we purchase on behalf of our customers continue to provide critical financing to wind farms across the country. I look forward to helping expand our reach and ramp up in the industry in the years to come.