Signal breezes into other green sectors

A Chattanooga-based wind energy company is expanding into other renewable power sectors.

Signal Wind Energy has changed its name to Signal Energy as it focuses not just on designing and building wind-related projects but is shifting into solar and biomass segments as well.

"Wind is appropriate in some parts of the country. In others, it's solar energy or biomass," said Signal's president, Ben Fischer.

The company, a subsidiary of contracting giant EMJ Corp., is projecting rapid growth in renewables. That's especially true if national standards are approved by Congress requiring electric utilities to produce power from wind, solar and other renewable energy sources.

If that happens, company growth could easily double or triple, Mr. Fischer said, declining to cite annual revenue figures.

"We'll see growth in hundreds of people," said Mr. Fischer about the company. Currently, the business or its subcontractors typically employ between 250 to 500 people on a project, he said.

Mr. Fischer said the company for the last five years has been designing and building wind energy projects, working for power developers or utilities.

He said a growth area in the Southeast is biomass energy projects involving the conversion of waste wood chips from paper mills.

In addition, the company already is eyeing a sizable West Tennessee solar facility in which it would like to take part, Mr. Fischer said.

Christine Real de Azua, a American Wind Energy Association spokeswoman, said it's common for companies to play in a variety of renewable markets.

"There's room for a lot of different business models," she said.

BY THE NUMBERS* $184 billion -- Government subsidies for clean-energy projects in the U.S., China, Europe and other regions* 10,000 -- Megawatts of wind energy installed in the U.S. in 2009* 25 -- Full design/build renewable energy projects completed by Signal Energy

Ms. Real de Azua said it's a priority to gain a long-term renewable energy policy.

"It's sending a signal to manufacturers that they can consider a long-term certain market in the U.S.," she said. "Sending such a sign could lead to explosive growth on the manufacturing side."

An industry consultant recently stated that renewable energy investment could jump by 23 percent this year as federal government stimulus funds are spent.

Governments in the U.S., China, Europe and other regions have earmarked $184 billion for clean-energy projects, with two-thirds of the funds expected to be spent through 2011, according to Bloomberg New Energy Finance.

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