Wind Energy Brings Jobs to Rural America

Aug. 25, 2009

Audio with Steve Wegman, South Dakota Wind Energy Association Executive Director (MP3 2.8 MB) Download Windows Media Player. Time: 00:02:58.

While South Dakota currently only has 288 megawatts of wind power capacity installed - South Dakota Wind Energy Association Executive Director Steve Wegman says the state is experiencing the benefits of the wind industry.

"What a lot of people don't realize is that we have a thousand people that go to work everyday that support the wind industry in South Dakota. We have Molded Fiberglass in Aberdeen; Broadtech is building a facility in Brandon, South Dakota to build tubes or tower sections for the wind machines; we have Kennebec Telephone Company that supplies anemometers and monitoring sites around the country. So we're seeing a lot of new jobs. And everyday I get a request from various wind developers in our area looking for people to go out and do oil monitoring and testing on site, to do infrared inspections, to do vibration analysis on shafts and blades, looking at doing birds and bat studies; things like that."

Wegman says that's a huge deal to a rural state like South Dakota with a population of less than one-million people. That's why he says the support of East River Electric Cooperative has been so important. He notes there's not a good track record of performance on small wind — and East River has stepped up to find answers for rural America.

"Is there a place in rural America; in particular in our farmsteads, our agricultural centers, of using small wind to supplement power? And, can we also create jobs from it? A lot of people forget, in South Dakota, we have 213 towns and cities; 150 of them have less than 500 people and we need wind energy and the other renewables to help bring jobs to the rural North Dakotas, the rural South Dakotas, the rural Wyomings, the rural Montanas and even rural Nebraska. Wind energy is going to give us the opportunity to put jobs in rural areas. This opportunity only comes by every 20 to 30 years, and if we don't take the bull by the horns, we're going to lose a lot of small little towns or a lot of opportunity for people to come in and find good employment."

The Wind for Schools program, according to Wegman, is ensuring there are people interested in wind energy — and the jobs it creates — for many years to come.

"It's wonderful to see the little videos that these kids in the K-12 program have put together on installing the wind machine and what's happened in the first year of operation. But it's been a wonderful partnership with Wind Powering America. From that, two of our vocational schools have opened up wind schools. Mitchell Tech in Mitchell, South Dakota and Lake Area Tech at Watertown, South Dakota and in both cases, they have over a hundred students going into the wind program this first year."