Renewable Energy: Shifting The Balance Of Power

EIA’s Energy Outlook 2020 forecasts a rapid decline of coal and nuclear power in this decade, the continuing expansion of renewables and the growth of U.S. exports of oil and gas.

By the BF Staff
From the July/August Issue

In the U.S. Energy Information Administration’s (EIA) Annual Energy Outlook 2020, U.S. energy consumption grows more slowly than gross domestic product throughout the 30-year projection period of the forecast (2050), as U.S. energy efficiency continues to increase. This decline in the energy intensity of the U.S. economy continues through 2050, the EIA report states.

The electricity generation mix continues to experience a rapid rate of change, with renewables the fastest-growing source of electricity generation through 2050 because of continuing declines in the capital costs for solar and wind that are supported by federal tax credits and higher state-level renewables targets, EIA says.

Renewable Energy
Students who graduate from Texas State Technical College’s Wind Energy Technology program in Harlingen, TX quickly find jobs in the Lone Star State, which leads the nation in installed wind power. (Photo: Harlingen EDC)

With slow load growth and increasing electricity production from renewables, U.S. coal-fired and nuclear electricity generation declines; most of the decline occurs by the mid-2020s. The United States continues to produce historically high levels of crude oil and natural gas. Slow growth in domestic consumption of these fuels is spurring increasing exports of crude oil, petroleum products and liquefied natural gas.

Solar accounted for nearly 40 percent of all new electricity-generating capacity added in the U.S. in 2019. In 2019, the U.S. solar market installed 13.3 gigawatts of solar PV, a 23 percent increase from 2018. Cumulative operating photovoltaic capacity in the U.S. now exceeds 76 GW. The U.S. also had record-setting residential solar capacity added in 2019, with more than 2.8 GW installed.


For Kankshita Swaminathan, PhD, renewable energy plant research is all about what happens under the dirt. Swaminathan, a faculty investigator at the HudsonAlpha Institute for Biotechnology in Huntsville, AL, focuses on sequencing and understanding complex plant genomes like silvergrass and sugarcane. Her goal is to make agriculture more sustainable, requiring less resources like water and minerals and improving farmers’ ability to produce the food, fuel and fiber that benefit us all.

HudsonAlpha’s collaborative campus places bioscience companies in direct proximity with internationally-renowned faculty members like Swaminathan, who are committed to making impactful discoveries in genomics and genetics that improve health and create a more sustainable world—like using plant genetics to find renewable foods and fuels.

Biotech researchers and companies at HudsonAlpha share meeting rooms and common spaces, IT support, a library and café, all of which foster a culture that feels like a community. During the pandemic they have continued collaboration with virtual Science on Tap where scientists share recent findings from their basic research and CEOs share research and developments in their early stage and beyond biotechs.

Renewable energy research is taking place at the genomic level at HudsonAlpha. “In order to provide genomic resources for studying these plants, we are working to improve our understanding of the Miscanthus genome to provide a foundation for other important perennials grasses,” Swaminathan says. “A lot of plant genomes, including those of many crops like sugarcane, are large and unwieldy. I enjoy the challenge of working with these difficult-to-study plants. We have a lot to learn from them that we can apply to other plants.”

Swaminathan uses genomics tools to understand the role of the rhizome—modified underground stems—in nutrient storage and reproduction in these grasses. This research focuses on the genetics behind how these perennial plants reproduce and how they capture and store nutrients to use year after year.

“We want to answer some questions about little-understood aspects of biology that are important for renewable energy crops,” Swaminathan says. “How does the rhizome contribute to overwintering, nutrient cycling and the spreading growth pattern, for instance?”

Jeremy Schmutz, faculty investigator from HudsonAlpha, says, “We need to look at how to improve the sustainability of our crops now in order to make the changes we need for the future. We are just beginning to understand the impacts of our modern agriculture systems. We need to find solutions that make our crops more efficient—for both food and biofuel sources.”

Swaminathan adds, “Improving crop yield and efficiency with a minimal impact on our environment, is the question of modern agriculture. But in a way, it’s always been the question. Modern genomics and biotechnology just gives us the world’s most efficient tool yet to solve it.”

More than 40 bioscience companies have chosen to establish a presence on the HudsonAlpha campus, taking advantage of proximity to this cutting edge research and the state’s growing biotech workforce. To date, at least 10 companies at HudsonAlpha are working on COVID-19 related projects, including some companies working for others during this peak demand pandemic era.

The biotech campus at HudsonAlpha is within Cummings Research Park, the second largest research park in the United States, which co-locates Fortune 500 companies with local and international businesses specializing in a range of high-tech industries: aerospace and defense, hardware and software development, engineering and research and development. Exploring the unknown through science is not new to Huntsville; it’s the culture.

For more than 50 years, Huntsville has applied its expertise to aviation and missiles at the U.S. Army’s Redstone Arsenal, and has accomplished great feats for NASA and the Army. HudsonAlpha has been applying the same passion and drive to the promise of genomics and use of biotechnology to improve the way we approach health and disease for 12 years.

In addition to knowing top scientists, life sciences companies at the HudsonAlpha biotech campus can lease a single workstation, a single lab, a suite of offices or any combination of space within three buildings on campus. Unlike many incubators, HudsonAlpha does not require an equity stake in its resident Associate Companies and also does not aim to graduate them out in order to bring in new companies. Rather, the economic development team at HudsonAlpha works like a mini-chamber of commerce for its current tenants to bring them business programming and resources, networking events, and best of all, space to expand as companies need it.

“Incremental growth, allowing biotech companies to scale in place, is a primary benefit of the campus to an early stage biotech or a small to medium enterprise,” says Amy Sturdivant, director of business recruitment.

Sites on the campus are also available to bioscience companies seeking headquarters, space for advanced manufacturing and research and development (R&D) in an established genomics biotech cluster. Worldwide, many in big pharma, like Bayer and J&J, have established their own “farm-team” style incubators in order to continuously bring new ideas. HudsonAlpha offers the same innovative environment to biotech corporations seeking to benefit from new IP and discoveries.

The Institute’s 152-acre biotech campus, located in an Opportunity Zone, offers room to grow and access to quality resources, including top talent and a ready workforce, continuous knowledge sharing and funding sources for intellectual property—all in a collaborative community of bioscience enterprises.


Surrounded by corn and soybeans, Clinton, IA is an obvious location for renewable energy companies. The Clinton Regional Development Corporation (CRDC) recently sold 3.3 acres of additional land to Hero BX at the Lincolnway Industrial Rail & Air Park (Rail Park), a rail-served Iowa Certified Site, for its planned expansion. Hero BX is a national, privately-held company headquartered in Erie, PA.

In September 2018, the company purchased an existing biofuel facility at the Rail Park in Clinton, IA and has since invested some $4 million in upgrading it to produce biofuel from local and regional feedstock. Hero BX is proud to employ nearly 30 local full-time workers and provide income for dozens of skilled workers from local contractors who are doing the retrofit.

Chris Peterson, President of Hero BX, said, “We have been very happy with how our company has been welcomed into the Clinton community by CDRC and many other organizations and business leaders. When CRDC presented us with the opportunity to acquire more property in the Rail Park adjacent to our existing facility, we jumped right on it. Although our project has been slowed by an uncontrollable downturn in the biodiesel business and more recently by the COVID pandemic, we are looking forward to finally getting the newly retrofitted plant into production in the coming weeks.”

In January 2020, the CRDC signed an option agreement for 72 acres with a new renewable energy company that chose the Rail Park for its proposed production facility. Plans are underway for a $300 million capital investment and upwards of 40 new jobs. A key factor in their location decision was access to rail service and barge operations on the Mississippi River, both wet and dry. Lastly, Archer Daniels Midland (ADM) produces over 30 products in Clinton and is currently implementing a $196 million project to modernize its corn wet mill here.

Upon arrival in the Greater Clinton Region, the feeling of optimism and potential are palpable. Economic development is a priority for the wide range of stakeholders who collaborate to get things done. Here, every company and prospect is treated like a VIP with direct and immediate access to decision makers. “Our number one priority is to accommodate our businesses’ needs regardless of their size,” said Erin M. Cole, President and CEO of the Clinton Regional Development Corporation (CRDC). “In the Greater Clinton Region, each company is valued and appreciated. We go out of our way to leverage all local, state and federal resources for the benefit of our employers.”

The Greater Clinton Region is a bi-state territory that straddles the Mississippi River. It offers economic opportunities in both Clinton County (Eastern Iowa) and a portion of Whiteside County (Northwest Illinois). Its prime Midwest location along four-lane U.S. Highway 30 is in close proximity to I-80 and I-88, with Chicago less than three hours away. The region is served by three Class I railroads, plus wet and dry barge transportation is available on the Mississippi River.

Companies interested in locating in the Greater Clinton Region have two business parks to choose from, plus available existing buildings. Both parks are located within Tax Increment Financing (TIF) districts. The Lincolnway Industrial Rail and Air Park (Rail Park) is a State of Iowa Certified Site for heavy industry and is rail-served by Union Pacific (UP). The Lyons Business and Technology Park (Tech Park) is a fast-growing site for light industrial and administrative operations.

Two new businesses recently broke ground in Clinton, one in the Lyons Tech Park and the other in the Rail Park. Cole says: “We are experiencing increased interest from new businesses involved in advanced manufacturing, renewable fuels, food and beverage production and administrative operations.” Abundant available land outside of the 500-year floodplain, generous incentives and the addition of two federal “Opportunity Zones” in Clinton, IA are making it easier to entice new investment into the region.

In order to retain and attract new businesses, a community must have an adequate, reliable workforce. The Greater Clinton Region offers three unique talent attraction programs: 1) Clinton Community College just launched “Manufacturing Awareness”, a workforce development program that prepares displaced workers and recent graduates for the wide range of jobs in the manufacturing sector; 2) in 2019, Clinton County and the Cities of Camanche, Clinton and DeWitt launched a new student loan payback program that is residency-based and can be used as a free recruitment tool by any local employer; and 3) the “Home Base Iowa” program, which offers generous housing incentives to U.S. military veterans who move to Iowa, is compounded by additional incentives if the veteran moves to Clinton County. In 2019, the CRDC tripled the number of veterans moving into Clinton County by aggressively marketing the Home Base Iowa program and available jobs.


Texas is quite literally blowing away all the competition, and in Cameron County, TX, wind turbines are familiar fixtures that have sprouted up over the years.

Turbines have increasingly been dotting the skyline in Harlingen, with the region having a great wind advantage that streams in from the Gulf of Mexico.

“The wind industry is important to the Rio Grande Valley because it has brought so many job opportunities to the local residents and has also boosted the financial growth for the economy as well,” said Patrick Zoerner, Texas State Technical College’s (TSTC) lead instructor for Wind Energy Technology in Harlingen.

Currently, there are five wind farms throughout the area, and it is expected that the number of turbines will only continue to grow in the Rio Grande Valley as Texas ports become the entry point for importing wind energy components from across the country and from Mexico.

These wind farms also boost the local economy, and Cameron County officials anticipate that the turbines could generate $40 million in tax revenue.

A single farm that consists of about 45 turbines can generate up to 145 megawatts of energy—and that kind of energy can power more than 40,000 homes.

The wind energy industry isn’t going anywhere and continues to grow. In 2018 it was estimated that more than 26,000 Texans worked in the industry. Additionally, in Texas alone, 23 gigawatts of renewable energy is produced annually—enough to power more than 6.2 million homes.

This rise in the industry also means more job creation statewide and locally, which also increases the need for a better-trained workforce.

“Students that come through our program have no problem finding a job in the wind industry,” Zoerner explained. “They can find jobs in almost any region of the state, which gives our graduates lots of opportunities for advancement.”

Recognizing the need for skilled workers in this high-demand industry, TSTC offers an Associate of Applied Science degree in Wind Energy Technology. For quicker entry into the workforce, a certificate option is available. The unique program is only offered at TSTC campuses in Harlingen and Sweetwater in West Texas, two of the main areas where this industry is growing.

The affordable program prepares students for this in-demand workforce. Graduates come out of the program skilled and ready to work in turbine construction and manufacturing sites in distribution and generation industries, or at utility companies.

The program has seen a steady increase in enrollment, and graduates are earning an average salary of $53,000. TSTC also offers ongoing training, which is key to this fast-growing industry.

“Because of our close proximity to the already-existing wind farms in South Texas and in Northern Mexico, it’s important for us to ensure that we have a skilled workforce,” Raudel Garza, Harlingen Economic Development CEO, said.

“We have an equipped workforce, training programs through TSTC and a booming industrial sector,” he added.

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