The multinational French conglomerate is best known for its passenger trains and nuclear power plants. It entered the global wind energy market in 2007 with its acquisition of Spannish turbine maker Ecotècnia, which has a long history in the European market and over 2.2GW in operation.
The company made the formal announcement at the US wind industry's annual wind conference held last month in Dallas, Texas. The major of Amarillo, Texas was on hand, along with representatives from Texas Tech University and the National Renewable Energy Laboratory, two organizations Alstom has entered into research partnerships with to advance its wind business in the US.
Tim Brown, director of communications for Alstom's operations in the US admits these are trying times in the US wind industry. Beneath the hustle of another huge US wind conference, much talk was of an industry reset and drastically fewer project installations this year. It may seem counter-intuitive, but Brown says this is actually the best time for Alstom to enter the US wind market.
"We're in a bit of lull now but that's the nature of an assembly and manufacturing business that we have to ramp up so we're ready with equipment when the market comes back. We want to be where the customers are when the customers are going to be there. So we would argue that it's actually perfect timing to be ramping up and doing some of the back-office things to get us ready," says Brown.
The company will build a 10,683 square metre assembly facility in Amarillo that at full capacity will produce 800MW of nacelles per year and support around 275 full time jobs. Towers and blades will be sourced separately in arrangements that have either not been finalised or not yet disclosed. Like many other manufacturers in the clean technology space, Alstom will benefit from tax credits included in a large federal economic stimulus package passed last year. The company is preapproved for $2,725,800 tax credit--roughly 30% of the facility's capital cost--provided the facility comes online by 2014.
"The US is the last frontier we needed to attack. It's not going to be easy, but we will be successful," says Philippe Cochet, president of Alstom's Hydro and Wind division. He says Alstom's advantage in an increasingly crowded filed of wind turbine producers is the reliability of its wind turbines.
Cochet cites the "Pure Torque" technology used in its wind turbines. This is a physical turbine design that aims to divert damaging load and torque from the spinning rotor away from the drivetrain and gearbox and instead deliver it to an absorbent frame casting within the nacelle structure. Uneven rotor loads from wind gusts transferred into a wind turbine drivetrain are widely considered to be a culprit in drivetrain and gearbox failures.
Brown adds that even if the US market continues in its lull for longer than expected, Alstom's role as a global provider of wind turbines will help it maximize use of the Amarillo facility. "Our products can be manufactured in North America but used throughout the world so that gives us a degree of flexibility as we can ramp up in one area of the world and balance out in another," says Brown.