“BREAKING: Large air spill at wind farm. No threats reported. Some claim to enjoy the breeze.”
— From Twitter, after the BP Oil Spill

The recent oil spills in the Gulf of Mexico and Michigan’s Kalamazoo River are the exclamation point on the case for why we need to move toward clean energy solutions for our energy needs. In Michigan, our big, hairy, audacious goal is to make our state the international hub of the clean energy industry, creating jobs by transforming Michigan from rust belt to green belt.

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On Thursday, I took part in the first Wind Energy Michigan Supplier Symposium, hosted by the Michigan Economic Development Corporation and General Electric at GE’s new Advanced Manufacturing and Software Technology Center in Van Buren Township. The event was a first step in helping GE — the U.S. market-share leader for large utility-scale wind turbines — to identify potential suppliers in Michigan that are bringing forth innovation and talent to fill gaps in the wind-turbine supply chain.

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GE is searching for suppliers in Michigan because our state has focused not just on harnessing the wind for power, but also on building the entire wind-energy manufacturing supply chain. The clean-energy business incubator NextEnergy estimates that Michigan is already home to over 100 companies that manufacture components or provide engineering, testing, or research and development services for the wind industry. NextEnergy estimates that a thousand more companies — auto suppliers and others — can diversify into servicing the wind industry. Since many of the same skills and techniques used in auto manufacturing can also be applied to wind manufacturing, our manufacturers are a perfect fit for the wind energy sector.

In a 21st century global economy, partnerships with government are essential to “crack the code” to the puzzle of how to competitively manufacture clean energy products in the United States. We’re competing with other nations that are heavily investing in this critical sector, and without a clear U.S. clean energy industrial policy, those jobs — current and future — are gone.

So here’s what one little state is doing to advance clean energy jobs: Over the last three years, we have enacted policy to complement the federal Recovery Act. The result:  Since 2008, Michigan has attracted 47 clean energy companies that are projected to create 89,388 jobs and $9.4 billion of investment in Michigan. And we’re just getting started. 

For example, in the wind area alone, we have worked with our growing wind industry to find potential suppliers and partners in the state — helping Michigan companies receive over $670 million in awarded contracts, and assisting them in diversifying their businesses. Just this year, the state awarded $20 million in grants to Michigan suppliers through the Recovery Act-funded Clean Energy Advanced Manufacturing program, helping companies quickly diversify into the growing clean energy market.

The state of Michigan also designated four Centers of Energy Excellence this year relating to wind energy, all bringing forth innovations in casting, machining, manufacturing, and material science for the wind industry. The Centers of Energy Excellence program [PDF] brings together companies, academic institutions, and the state to create jobs in the clean energy industry. Here’s a great Centers of Energy Excellence success story: Wind energy castings previously manufactured in China will be manufactured in Michigan — and will beat the China price! — thanks to the innovative manufacturing process developed by URV USA and the rapid machining capabilities of Astraeus Wind Energy. That’s good news for clean energy, and great news for American manufacturing!

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The question for America is: Do we want the U.S. to lead in clean energy, or do we want to take a backseat to countries like China? To paraphrase a line from Wayne Gretzky, China realizes that clean energy is where the puck is going, and they’re skating toward it. According to a recent Pew study [PDF], China invested $34.6 billion in clean energy and energy efficiency in 2009 — more than any other country. The United States was a distant second with $18.6 billion invested. China manufactured and installed more wind turbines than any other nation last year. These facts only bolster the case for why the United States must adopt policies to create a long-term sustainable market for wind energy — or risk being left in the dust.

The states are the laboratories of democracy — so let’s learn from our labs how to create jobs in America. If economically challenged Michigan can create 89,000 clean energy manufacturing jobs in three years with the right energy policies, think what could happen for the entire country if Congress made a strong commitment to clean energy. We have an election in November — let’s put leaders in place who will act to make it happen here in America.