Wind energy is booming across North America,
and that means good business for companies making the
wind-generating structures and their parts.
"It's definitely growing-2007 is expected to
be the largest ever in terms of installed capacity," said an
American Wind Energy Association spokeswoman. Global titans
making turbines for windmills-like General Electric Co.,
Fairfield, Conn., Mitsubishi Corp., Tokyo; and Siemens AG,
Munich, Germany-are the obvious beneficiaries of the worldwide
interest in wind power. GE had the largest share of the U.S.
market in 2006, she said. Vestas Wind Systems A/S, Randers,
Denmark, came in second in terms of the number of installed
turbines, although the Danish company is a larger provider than
GE on a global basis.
But big companies like GE are only part of
the wind energy picture. Often, a developer buys land for a
windmill project and handles regulatory and other processes;
the developer then contracts with a company like GE to provide
the structures; that company, in turn, contracts with others to
make the huge towers that support the turbines, the blades that
harness the wind and the gearboxes and other parts that help
generate electricity. Those smaller suppliers also are picking
"A lot of companies are coming into the
business, but there is still not enough supply," Steve
Huntington, chief financial officer of Tower Tech Systems Inc.,
Manitowoc, Wis., said.
Tower Tech operates from a Lake Michigan
plant that used to make submarines during World War II. The
facility is equipped with cranes that can lift as much as 200
tons, which is important because a 240-foot tower can use as
much as 195,000 tons of steel.
The company was incorporated in 2003 and
started production in 2006. It provides towers to turbine
companies such as Clipper Windpower Inc., Carpinteria, Calif.,
and Gamesa Corporación Tecnológica SA, Madrid,
Spain, but does most of its business in the Midwest, which is
rich in what the industry calls "wind resources"-in other
words, it's really windy.
Iowa leads the Midwest, with 976 megawatts
(MW) of wind energy capacity, according to mid-year statistics
from the American Wind Energy Association, about 7.7 percent of
the U.S. total of 12,634 MW. It has a small lead over
Minnesota's 897 MW, but is well behind Texas, where there is
more than 3,300 MW of capacity, a figure that could reach 4,000
MW before the end of the year. A single megawatt can supply
electricity to between 250 and 300 average U.S. homes.
Wind energy is gaining ground not only in the
Midwest and strongholds like California and Texas, but also
offshore in Northeast states such as Maryland. It's also
picking up in Canada, where installed capacity has reached
1,588 MW, enough to power about 480,000 homes, according to the
Canadian Wind Energy Association.
A large wind project coordinated by Canadian
energy company Hydro-Québec, Montreal, aims to boost
wind energy capacity in the province to 2,000 MW, said Eric
Bellemare, Marmen Inc.'s business development director for
Trois Rivières, a city in the Mauricie region of the
province. Quebec-based Marmen makes wind towers. "Ontario is
pushing hard, too," Bellemare said. "It's kind of a fight
between the two provinces. Everyone is trying to get
And it's not just businesses and governments
getting in on the action. It's also catching on in residential
construction. Frank Travetto, merchandising vice president at
service center Earl M. Jorgensen Co., Lynwood, Calif., said he
saw a windmill outside a home during a recent visit to Canada.
"A big, beautiful mansion with a windmill in front. I've never
seen anything like it for a residential property."
Wind energy also has been good for the gear
business, Travetto said. "Windmills have really occupied a lot
of time at gear shops. It's a market that, while it's been
around for a while, it never had any great commercial value