“It looks like a frickin’ space station,” that’s how operations engineer Carlos Morales describes Invenergy HQ, where he and his team run point on 700 plus wind turbines in Texas. It’d take him two days to drive down to the Lone Star State and scale a turbine himself, but from his downtown Chicago perch, he can keep things online thanks to Invenergy’s commitment to standardization, automation and optimization. As North America’s largest privately held energy solutions provider, Invenergy leads the industry in corporate purchase contracts of renewables, with project transactions valued in excess of $37 billion. Among their partners are international and domestic banks, export credit agencies, and pension funds. Invenergy is also investing at the ground level, with local wind farms generating jobs and tax revenue for small communities and individual land owners.
Wind is King
While Invenergy works with solar, natural gas, and energy storage, wind is the power player in their portfolio. It’s not a bad strategy to lead with — wind is not only powering the global shift to clean energy, it’s also strengthening the economy as the fastest growing source of electricity generation in the US. Morales says it’s simple, “The wind is always gonna blow.” Indeed, wind is a largely reliable, limitless, non-polluting source of energy, and costs associated with harnessing its power have fallen over 60% in the past five years. That’s a good thing, as the clean energy industry attempts to recover after significant job loss due to COVID.
Essential Workers at 300 Feet
In 2019, the US Bureau of Labor Statistics reported that the fastest growing profession in the country is wind turbine technician. “Technicians are essential workers,” says Morales, “they have to keep the turbines running, people need power.” Especially in Texas, the state that both produces and consumes the most electricity in the US. Texas leads the nation in wind energy production, accounting for 28% of all wind-generated electricity in 2019. During the shutdown, Morales says, “We made it work, the crew split up into two different crews, so they would never commingle.” Morales himself can support much of the operations from Chicago, but he occasionally gets down to Texas to climb up one of their 300-foot turbines and troubleshoot something mechanical. Originally afraid of heights, he recalls the first visit to a wind farm, “I was nervous. Basically you hop on a ladder and you just climb to the top. Once I was secured into the harness, they just said,’ ‘Don’t look down.’”
The View from the Top
Morales, who worked as an HVAC engineer before moving to Invenergy, said what surprised him the most about wind energy is “How elegantly designed the turbines are. A wind turbine has a lot of moving parts, but at its core, it’s a simple concept. I mean don’t get me wrong,” he’s quick to add. “There are a million things that can go wrong, and you end up spending a few hours troubleshooting one valve, but at its core, it is a beautifully simple system.”
A Wind-Powered Recovery
Back at mission control Morales surveys the landscape. “Everybody thought that once the PTC credits expire this year, no one would want to develop [renewables] anymore. But the opposite actually happened. People saw the benefit from creating energy in a clean way and from our perspective the pipeline is big and it’s only continuing to grow.” Prior advances in wind make it especially well-positioned to lead an economic recovery powered by renewables. Take for instance Invenergy’s Gratiot County Wind Project in the heart of central Michigan. With 69, 1.6-MW GE Energy wind turbines they’ve generated $3.8 M in annual tax revenue, employee salaries and landowner lease payments. In the words of Village of Breckenridge Manager, Jeff Ostrander: “Invenergy’s investment in our area has resulted in a real, significant economic boost – at a time during which so many other communities are struggling.”