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Clean Energy Foundations

When President Barack Obama sought a renewable-energy connection in an Earth Day visit to Iowa, he steered clear of ethanol, whose production is more

Don Marsh, Editor

When President Barack Obama sought a renewable-energy connection in an Earth Day visit to Iowa, he steered clear of ethanol, whose production is more and more synonymous with bankruptcy. He opted for an appearance at the wind energy sister operation of Texas' Transit Mix Concrete & Materials.

The nation that leads the world in creating new energy sources will be the nation that leads the 21st-century global economy. America must be that nation, the president told an April 22 gathering at Trinity Structural Towers, Newton, Iowa. While we seek new forms of fuel to power our homes and cars and businesses, we will rely on the same ingenuity Û the same American spirit Û that has always been a part of our story.

The address took place at a Maytag facility Trinity Structural Towers converted to fabricate tubular steel wind turbine pedestals, foundations for which have fueled demand for rural ÎmassÌ concrete pours across the Midwest and Great Plains. After a plant tour where he observed concrete floor markings from appliance manufacturing equipment as the only signs of a once-thriving enterprise, Obama affirmed, This facility is alive again with new industry, later adding that Iowa is second only to Texas in installed wind energy capacity.

Dallas-based Trinity Industries is uniquely positioned to create wind energy capacity. The builder of Texas' newest farm, Capricorn Ridge, tagged Trinity Structural Towers (Ft. Worth plant) for pedestals; Trinity Logistics Group for trucking tower segments to a west Texas site; and, Transit Mix Concrete for 75,000 yd. of foundation concrete, delivered from two portable plants.

Wind energy developments will create more construction business opportunities, but can only advance the Obama administration's renewable energy goals so far. In the country's energy equation, wind remains a small factor due to challenges inherent in transmitting power from rural, wind-swept sites to population centers with high electricity demand.

President Obama's Trinity Structural Towers visit dovetailed with an AFL-CIO Building and Construction Trades Department campaign prodding U.S. House Energy and Commerce Committee members to vote for legislation boosting wind and solar power development. The campaign features an It's Time-themed television spot and print ads with green Clean Energy Jobs hardhats dangling from wind turbine blades.

Might clean energy proponents, from union halls to the U.S. Capitol and White House, dignify nuclear power upon discovery that wind and solar energy will only go so far to offset coal combustion? One project whose eventual ground-breaking might make a good venue for a future Earth Day presidential visit is a nuclear power plant on the drawing boards of Missouri operator AmerenUE. The proposed facility stands to employ at peak up to 3,000 concrete and other construction workers, many members of AFL-CIO affiliate unions.

But for AmerenUE and prospective plant contractors and suppliers, it's not time yet: Just after Earth Day 2009, the utility scrapped the project and asked sponsors to withdraw the Missouri Clean and Renewable Energy Construction Act. Provisions that would guarantee funding mechanisms critical to commencing construction had been removed from the original bill.

Political climate permitting, state and federal lawmakers who promote clean energy will realize the safety, efficiency, and tremendous power generation gained from smashing atoms in highly engineered, mass concrete vessels. Once they embrace the future of clean energy, a strong pool of skilled contractors and quality control-wise concrete suppliers Û some who might have cut their teeth on wind turbine foundation work Û will be ready to take on the truly mass pours needed for nuclear power developments.