Michigan lands 1st large wind turbines assembly plant

Northern Power Systems of Barre, Vt., intends to use a facility in Saginaw to manufacture its next-generation large wind turbines, expected to be the first ones built in the U.S. using 100% American-made parts. Plans call for sourcing as many parts as possible from Michigan companies.

Economic development officials have long sought to bring large wind turbine manufacturing to Michigan in order to increase opportunities for the state’s more than 100 wind turbine parts makers, many of whom are auto suppliers looking to diversify.

Northern Power already has a deal to supply 13 of the wind turbines for a Heritage Sustainable Energy wind farm near Escanaba that will supply power to Consumers Energy, state officials said.

It’s unclear how many workers Northern Power will need because the company’s executives could not be reached Monday.

Northern Power said its large wind turbines use a design and technology that make them more efficient, quieter and less costly to operate than what is on the wind power market today. Each of these wind turbines can generate 2.2 megawatts of electricity, enough to power 2,200 homes.

Working with Saginaw-based Merrill Technologies Group, Northern Power has already produced three of the wind turbines, one of which was bought by DTE Energy, according to Andy Levin, acting director of the Michigan Department of Energy, Labor & Economic Growth.

Northern Power has been in the wind power business since 1974. Originally called North Wind Power, it sold more than 600 small wind turbines over a 20-year period.

In recent years, it has been developing newer turbine technology. The company is already making its next-generation small wind turbines in Barre.

Northern Power is owned by a group of private investors that includes RockPort Capital Partners, a California venture capital firm, and Allen & Co., a New York-based investment bank and asset management firm.

The investment in Michigan comes at a tough time for the U.S. wind-energy industry. In the first nine months of this year, new wind project installations have dropped 72% from last year’s record levels because of the economy and other factors.

But in the long run, companies such as Northern Power and state officials say they believe the underdeveloped U.S. wind-energy market holds enormous potential for both profits and new jobs. Although the federal government has yet to enact policies that would foster the industry’s growth, many states are pushing ahead with their own plans. For instance, Michigan requires that at least 10% of electricity come from renewable sources by 2015, which is expected to spur demand for more than 1,000 new wind turbines.

The state has spent the last four years building a network of wind turbine parts suppliers, providing millions in grants and loans. Many of these projects are still getting off the ground. Granholm said Northern Power’s plant could help pave the way for enormous offshore wind turbines to be made in the state.

"Michigan is going to be one of the best-positioned states in the country," she said. "Demand will pick up for these wind turbines."


By Katherine Yung, www.freep.com