Renewable energy industry takes hold in Miss.

Published 4:49 pm Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Mississippi has dozens of renewable energy projects, but like much of the Southeast, it has fallen behind in the development of wind-generated power.

Tennessee is the only state in the Southeast generating wind energy, according to American Wind Energy Association’s latest figures. Wind energy in the U.S. grew by a record 8,358 megawatts in 2008 with generating capacity at 25,170 megawatts nationally, which is enough to produce power for nearly 7 million households.

The reason for Mississippi and Southeast’s failure in wind generated power is quite simple: It isn’t breezy enough, said Christine Real de Azua, an AWEA spokeswoman.

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“There is less wind in Mississippi…so that is one of the key reasons. And so the windier it is, obviously the more likely you’re going to be to see development,” Azua said.

In Mississippi, renewable energy efforts are focused elsewhere. Sumesh Arora, director of the Strategic Biomass Initiative for Mississippi Technology Alliance, said Mississippi is focusing its efforts in developing the biomass industry — using such things as wood chips and bark to make energy rather than coal or petroleum.

There are over 40 biomass-related renewable energy projects in the state, according to the Mississippi Technology Alliance, and just last week a Canadian company said it had selected a northeast Mississippi site for its first U.S. biofuel plant.

Montreal-based Enerkem Inc. said the plant in Pontotoc is expected to create up to 450 jobs.

Arora said his agency is gathering information to determine the impact of the state’s renewable energy projects.

“We are trying to quantify the number of jobs, the type of biomass and the amount of biomass they are using,” Arora said.

The purpose of the Strategic Biomass Initiative, which is partially funded by the Department of Energy, is to strengthen biomass research and development at universities and the private sector. Arora also works to show potential biomass companies the hurdles and pitfalls to commercializing renewable energy resources.

With President Barack Obama urging the nation to diversify its energy supply and including money in the stimulus plan for that purpose, more attention is being paid to the biomass industry than in the past, Arora said.

“We had a state-funded project called the Mississippi Alternative Energy Enterprise, which went back as far as 2002,” he said. “So we have been doing this for quite a while before I guess renewable energy was as sexy as it is today.”

Azua said even though states like Mississippi don’t have great wind production potential, suppliers of parts used in the turbines are still creating jobs in those areas.

“With all of the wind power development going on in the country, wind turbines are being installed and there are about 8,000 components in a modern wind turbine,” Azua said.

Such suppliers include Dixie Matt and Hardwood in Sandy Hook, Taylor Machine Works in Louisville, and Unisorb Installation Technologies.

“So there is business opportunity and job creation trickling in, even in a state where you may not have a lot of wind,” she said.