Wind farms benefting the region

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Courtesy of Fleetmatics

Wind farms as close as Benton and White counties—and others around the world—are boosting Tippecanoe County’s economy by at least $20 million a year, reports Jody Hamilton, director of economic development for Greater Lafayette Commerce.

“From land title searches to construction labor and turbine components, businesses in Greater Lafayette are enjoying new revenues, and that figure doesn’t include materials acquired from local suppliers,” she said.

One company benefiting is Advantage Title, reports President Mike Wilson. Research to verify land ownership before wind energy companies sign long-term leases has brought increased work and revenues to the company. Since January 2007, company personnel have checked titles held by hundreds of property owners on thousands of parcels in 12 Indiana counties and two Illinois counties.

“We’ve increased our staff by three and retained some outside searchers to help,” Wilson said. One researcher spent a year in Benton County; another has been in White County since last August. “Not all the information is online, so we send people out to county courthouses,” Wilson said. “This is something new for us, beyond traditional title work.”

So far, Advantage has worked for five energy companies. Wilson anticipates the work to continue for the next six to eight years.

Members of unions in the Tippecanoe Building and Construction Trades Council are benefiting, too—to the tune of 600,000 hours in wind farm construction labor in 2008. That will continue in 2009 at three more area wind farms, reports Council President Eric Clawson.

“About half of our member unions are working on area wind farms,” he said. The core group includes crafts people from International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 668, Ironworkers Local 22, Laborers Local 274, Millwrights Local 1043, Operating Engineers Local 103, Plasterers and Cement Masons Local 692 and Teamsters Local 135.

At Lafayette’s Fairfield Manufacturing, president and chief executive officer Gary Lehman said the company has added wind energy components to its product lineup and is now filling orders.

“These are very large gears for wind turbine gearboxes,” Lehman said. “Our advanced technology and breadth of manufacturing capabilities are ideally suited to meet this growing demand.”

To prepare workers for sustainable industries, Ivy Tech Community College in Lafayette hopes to launch a new Sustainable Energy Program this fall, pending approval by the Indiana Commission for Higher Education. It will the first in Indiana to offer such a program.

Plans are to offer a 34-hour technical certificate and a two-year associate of applied science degree. Students will study solar energy installation, wind turbine construction and maintenance, green technology in construction and home technology integration. Developed in Lafayette, the program will include a required externship, possibly two. “We think that is a strength of the program,” said Mary Ostrye, vice chancellor of academic affairs.

Wind farm companies operating, building or seeking sites in north central Indiana include BP Alternative Energy, Houston, which has completed phase one of the Fowler Ridge Wind Farm and the Benton County Wind Farm, both in Benton County; Horizon Wind Energy, Houston, which breaks ground April 14, 2009, on the Meadow Lake Wind Farm in southwestern White County; and enXco, an EDF Energies Nouvelles Company, Escondito, California, which breaks ground April 17 on a 53-turbine generator project in Benton County.

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