In addition to predicting an uptick in the market later this year, Acciona stated its intention to find more U.S. suppliers for its nacelle assembly operation.
"We’re trying to bring everything from Spain to the U.S.," said Joseph Baker, who started as the new CEO of Acciona Windpower North America this spring. That will mean more U.S. manufacturing jobs.
Of course, the right policies will help Acciona and others in the industry rebound further and create even more urgently needed American jobs with a future. Before Congress heads out of town this summer, they need to pass a renewable electricity standard (RES) to stabilize the market and help attract investment in manufacturing. The first step is for the Senate to take up an energy bill, and they are more likely to do that if they hear from voters. To make your voice heard, go to www.powerofwind.com/
Change blowin’ in the wind
Plant looks to bounce back after tough year
The demand for wind power weakened along with the economy, but officials at Acciona Windpower in West Branch say they’re confident the winds of change are coming.
The West Branch location is the North American headquarters for nacelle assembly, the wind turbine section of the machine.
The plant is capable of producing eight to 10 nacelles per week, but in past months, production was down to only one a week. A production uptick that began this month will ramp work up to two per week, officials said.
The West Branch location opened in December 2007 and in the 2½ years of business since, Acciona still is building name recognition in the North American market and preparing for the debut of the larger, 3 megawatt wind turbines in the United States later this year, said Joseph Baker, who started as the new CEO of Acciona Windpower North America on May 10.
Baker said there are one, or possibly two, sites in the United States for the 3 megawatt prototypes.
For a 1.5 megawatt nacelle, the 77-meter rotor diameter blades capture an acre of wind. When complete, the tower stands more than 262 feet in height. The 3 megawatt towers, in comparison, reach 506 feet in the air at the highest tip of the blade, he said.
As Acciona Windpower develops in West Branch, they’re looking for more suppliers in the United States, specifically in Iowa or the Midwest, to cut the high costs of inbound freight, Baker said.
"We’re trying to bring everything from Spain to the U.S.," he said. Ideally, suppliers will come to West Branch or within a one-day drive, Baker said.
Some pieces will take longer to localize, said Perry Wozney, director of strategic procurement, but there are not any nacelle pieces that have to come from Spain.
Wozney said prospective international suppliers looking to add a North American base can look to this area not only for Acciona’s business, but a competitor nearby — Clipper Turbine Works Inc. manufacturing in Cedar Rapids.
There are two markets for wind turbines — utility companies and developers looking to build wind farms, Baker said.
Utility companies have certain requirements before making the investment into something like wind power, he said.
"Their demand is soft and it’s starting to firm up," he said.
For developers, they want to ensure they’ll get a return on their investment of hundreds of millions of dollars, Baker said. They can build a wind farm, but they need someone to buy the energy to make it worth the effort.
One factor that likely will come into play is states setting renewable portfolio standards, or mandates for when they will meet renewable energy goals.
Even though there are "a lot of moving parts" and calculations about payback, Baker said he sees public support for renewable energy.
"I think there’s general agreement we should be doing something proactively," he said. "People in their gut are saying we should probably be doing something different."
Baker said he believes "wind offers a tremendous opportunity," but the downside is the cost.
"I don’t think the United States is ever going to escape fossil fuel dependency," he said.
While it’s easy to notice the tall wind turbines in a field or the blades as they are transported on the interstate, infrastructure needs are an important part of the puzzle, Baker said. In other parts of the country, turbines have been built to serve big cities, but the infrastructure wasn’t in place to transmit that kind of energy capacity, he said.
In the next six months, Baker said he expects things to stabilize with a slight uptick in production, with hopes for another small uptick in the first half of 2011. He’s looking to the second half of 2011, because he’s cautiously optimistic that "we should be sitting in a very good position."
"We’re on a slow growth in a positive direction," Baker said. "I think we’ll get there over time."
With an uptick in business, it also helps the employees, he said.
Acciona laid off about one-third of the work force at the West Branch plant in March 2009, and numbers have increased only marginally since then, he said. In recent months, the plant was rotating out employees to the wind farms, meaning they were gone four weeks at a time. As of June 21, no employees would be rotated out as work increased in the plant.
"They’ll be able to sleep in their own beds at night, which is an important thing," Baker said.
"We’ve got everything going," he said. "We just need a little market tailwind."
By Rachel Gallegos • Iowa City Press-Citizen, www.press-citizen.com
By Chris Madison, www.awea.org/blog/