Saturday, December 03, 2011

Nobody Makes It Better Than Michigan

Look what we can do.

Dowding Industries first appeared on my radar way back in 2007 when the push for the RPS started in earnest; since then, they rode through the turmoil of the Great Recession, forced to lay off people but eventually hiring them all back and adding more, and they came out the other side with flying colors.

"It matters where things are made, and nobody makes it better than Michigan," Senator Debbie Stabenow, (D-MI.) said.

As of Monday, nobody casts hubs and other components for wind turbines faster than Dowding Industries Astraeus Wind in Eaton Rapids.

"It's the fastest in the world," Jeff Metts, president of Dowding Industries Astraeus Wind, said.

Senator Stabenow, joined by leaders in business and labor, announced a machine that produces the space needed to connect parts of a wind turbine. This machine is not a new idea, but the speed in which it works is record-setting.

"So we developed a machine that could take the process time from 30 hours down to four and a half," Metts said.

The facility where the machine is housed, when at full capacity, could bring in roughly 200 new jobs to Eaton Rapids.

The Lansing State Journal ran a nice profile on Jeff Metts, telling the story of how this company almost went to Iowa until Michigan made the business case to keep them here, how they didn't receive the MEGA credit that was lined up because the recession kept them from creating the jobs needed to reach that incentive - but now they have bounced back, with sales up 37% and expected to hit around $50 million this year. Dowding employs 200 people with plans to hire more - but trouble looms on the horizon again, this time in the form of willful opposition on the part of some in Congress to creating jobs in America.

Republicans are trying to turn the country against green manufacturing and clean energy, as you know. Metts had the unfortunate experience of having to deal with do-nothing Tim Walberg when he went to Washington to urge that Congress extend the Production Tax Credit, a crucial component for competing with other countries that are heavily subsidizing their manufacturing for this industry. Walberg, as you could have predicted, said "no" to jobs for Michigan.

Metts said he was disappointed when he visited Washington recently to meet with legislators, including Rep. Tim Walberg, a Republican from Tipton, about extending the tax credit.

"I told (Walberg) the wind industry needs to be developed and be supported so it makes products and a profit," Metts said. "He listened and seems to understand but talked about how (the federal government) can't continue to subsidize us. I said you have been subsidizing oil and gas for 40 years, and they don't need it anymore. We just need it for another five years."

Fossil subsidies far outweigh those for renewable energy, $409 billion to $66 billion in 2010. 23 governors and 369 organizations have joined the effort to urge Congress to renew the production credit for four years before it expires at the end of 2012. Big names are behind it too - people like National Association of Manufacturers, the American Farm Bureau Federation, the Western Governors’ Association, the United Steelworkers, and many others.

If they don't do it, we may lose the jobs that are already here. It's that simple. Metts has indicated as such, and there are other manufacturers in Michigan saying the same thing.

Along with Michigan's renewable energy standards, the federal production tax credit, which originally was approved in 1992 and extended four times, is largely responsible for the growth of the wind industry in Michigan, said Peter Gibson, vice president of sales with Danotek Motion Technologies, a Canton Township-based wind turbine component maker that produces an advanced permanent magnet generator.

"There is a big effort to extend the tax credit because the companies that develop the wind farms need to have some certainty about the financials of the commitment of their projects before Jan. 1, 2013," Gibson said. "If the credit is not extended in the next few months, there is a risk of those developers delaying purchase of turbines and services, which could result in a significant slowdown in orders and business," Gibson said.

During the past 19 years, the tax credit has been allowed to expire three times, resulting in boom and bust cycles in the wind industry where installation orders dropped by as much as 75 percent, said Jeff Bocan, managing director with Farmington Hills-based venture capital and private equity firm Beringea.

This is unacceptable. One wind farm slated for Indiana has already canceled its plans due to this uncertainty; they also cite Indiana's lack of a mandatory RPS as a reason as well. How many others are out there? How many jobs are we losing? How many orders won't be coming Dowding's way, due to representatives like Walberg that are dragging their feet for partisan purposes only?

If the Dems were smart, they would round up a list of these projects and start advertising that House Republicans are "job killers" - because they are. Americans are still in favor of green jobs despite the Republican (Koch) effort to paint renewables in a bad light. It's a winning issue, as long as Democrats don't run away from it - and start fighting back.

So, cheers to Dowding for sticking with the plan through the tough times, and cheers to Senator Stabenow and Co. for highlighting this Michigan innovation and the jobs it can create. And here's to hoping that her colleagues get on board and continue to push to develop America's clean energy efforts. They will be pleasantly surprised by the reaction of the voters if they do.