Wave Wind catches the wind energy wave

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SUN PRAIRIE, Wis. — As economic development officials await word on whether a European wind power company will invest in Milwaukee, an Asian firm is planting some roots in Wisconsin.

Hyundai Heavy Industries of South Korea is expanding into the wind power business and is working with Wave Wind LLC of Sun Prairie to establish itself in North America.

“We purchased the first six Hyundai wind turbines in the world, with the hope of planting them right here in Wisconsin,” said Jeff Wilkinson, Wave Wind vice president. “We’re pursuing a project right here in our neighborhood.”

Wave Wind is a company that formed in mid-2007 as a joint project of Tim Laughlin and Robert Heinemann. Laughlin came from the heavy crane industry, but jumped to the renewable energy field, while Heinemann owns and operates Wave Communications, a cell-phone tower construction firm.

Laughlin had worked in wind power construction since
the late 1990s but saw an opportunity for a local company that could
fill a niche market building small to medium-sized wind farms of one to
50 turbines.

There’s a certain “cool factor” to being in the
renewable energy space and in dealing with the challenge of oversized
equipment like wind turbines, blades and towers, Wilkinson said.

The jobs are huge and the logistics are oversized as well.

After experiencing record growth in prior years, the
wind power market stalled in 2009. A rebound is forecast in 2010, but
whether that will kick in before midyear is up in the air, Laughlin and
Wilkinson said.

“The political push now behind renewables is
certainly helping. Of course, the economic crash put some delays on the
industry,” he said. “But we feel we’re doing the right things. We have
to do something to start eliminating our carbon footprint on this
Earth, and this is one way to do it.”

The political push includes renewable energy mandates proposed in Congress and in Madison. Wisconsin
is one of 26 states with a renewable energy mandate. Legislation
drafted to address the state’s carbon footprint — the sum of all
emissions of greenhouse gases — would require that 25 percent of the
state’s electricity come from renewable sources of energy by 2025.

Of the recovery, Laughlin said, “We’re starting to
see the rumblings, the money is loosening up and folks are looking to
invest in the renewable world. We’re just starting to feel it.”

The 45-employee firm has been most active in Texas, Oklahoma and other states where wind power development has been active.

The main focus has been on transportation and
logistics of moving massive pieces of equipment — from trains to
staging areas to trucks to project development sites.

The construction work — hundreds feet in the air — requires the use of giant cranes and other types of oversized equipment.

That’s part of the “cool factor” that made Wilkinson want to be a part of the firm.

This month, Wave Wind employees are trekking to Nicaragua
for a project building 11 large turbines. The work involves erecting
turbines in an area with steady winds and difficult terrain.

“You’re driving around, and you go around one corner and there’s a donkey pulling a cart. And then next you see a 25-year-old Toyota barely moving along,” he said. “We feel like we’re Martians. We have these huge cranes the size of Big Blue at Miller Park, and we’re just cruising along the countryside installing turbines.”

The partnership with Hyundai is moving Wave Wind’s
focus closer to home, as the company branches beyond construction and
maintenance and into wind farm project development.

The company is looking to tap local suppliers for its six-turbine Hyundai project, hiring Manitowoc-based Tower Tech Systems to build the wind towers.

With Hyundai, Wilkinson said, “We’re kind of carving
the relationship as we go, with the mind-set that we feel like we can
bring some opportunities to Wisconsin.”

Some states have been ahead of Wisconsin in landing key suppliers to the wind industry, including Pennsylvania, Colorado and Iowa.

But Wisconsin
is poised to catch up. More than 70 companies are part of a statewide
coalition of businesses that are getting involved in supplying the wind
industry, according to Josh Morby, spokesman for New North, an economic development coalition representing a 17-county region in northern Wisconsin.

The Milwaukee 7 economic development group sent delegates to Spain this fall to try to persuade a Spanish wind power company to locate its first North American operations in Milwaukee.

The city is competing with one other city for that
investment, which could result in the addition of 100 to 200 jobs. The
firm is expected to announce its plans by the end of December.

Passage of a bill in the Legislature designed to
establish uniform siting standards for wind projects across the state
will help the industry expand, Wilkinson said.

Wisconsin certainly fits from a logistical support infrastructure, with Great Lakes opportunities for shipping. It’s centrally located in the U.S. as a hub. And Wisconsin
has manufacturing capabilities. We just need to change our gears and
not only allow it to happen, but encourage it and support it,”
Wilkinson said.

Via McClatchy-Tribune News Service.

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