It’s no secret that parts of U.S. manufacturing have struggled over the last several decades. And while American wind power is helping to bring some of it back (supporting 21,000 jobs in 500 factories) in Lackawana, N.Y., wind energy is helping in a different way.
Today, the Steel Winds project sits on the bank of Lake Erie, on the site of a former Bethlehem Steel plant.
After years of steel production, when the mill closed it left the surrounding grounds badly polluted, otherwise known as a brownfield. For more than 20 years, the land was vacant and designated an Environmental Protection Agency superfund site.
When the area was sufficiently cleaned, the 14 wind turbines comprising the Steel Winds project were installed in two phases, beginning in 2007. They generate enough electricity to power about 15,000 homes, and some Lackawana residents feel they represent a path forward for a city that has struggled through industrial decline.
“It’s changing the image of the city of Lackawanna,” said Norman L. Polanski Jr., Lackawana’s mayor when Steel Winds came online and a former Bethlehem worker who was laid off when the steel mill closed in 1983. “We were the old Rust Belt, with all the negatives. Right now, we are progressive and we are leading the way on the waterfront.”
The optimism around Steel Winds goes further than mere symbolism. The project brings in $190,000 in tax revenue every year, creating finances that can be used for local infrastructure improvements and school funding.
What was once a symbol of loss and degradation is now a source of clean energy and progress. It’s a reminder that American innovation can help overcome challenges and continue creating a better tomorrow.