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Blade firm trhows in the towel

One of the wind industry's oldest participants, wind turbine blade company Gougeon, is getting out of the business after 20 years involvement. Gougeon has been the largest American manufacturer of blades for wind turbine rotors. The parent company, Gougeon Bros Inc of Bay City, Michigan, has already axed most of its wind employess and expects to be out of the business by April, closing down its wind division completely.

The division, called Gougoon Manufacturing, now employs three people, down from 110 at its peak in 1982. The Pinconning plant, where the wind blade business was carried out, was closed late last year, says Meade Gougeon. The company will permanently leave wind energy once a current project -- researching blade flaps for the Westinghouse turbines in Hawaii for the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) -- is completed.

Gougeon is known for its wood epoxy blades, used by all three wind turbine designs originally chosen by NREL for the Department of Energy's advanced turbine research and development programme. Over the years, the company also supplied many blades to the American wind business, from large MOD machines to ESI 54s. In the early 1980s, Gougeon built over 4000 blades.

Technology carries on

Despite the company's decision to pull out of wind, the Gougeon technology will not be lost. In mid-January negotiations were under way to transfer it to a "large company," says Gougeon. The talks are expected to be completed as early as late February. "We have not been profitable in many yars," he says, explaining the decision to get out of wind. However, he sees a resurgence in the business within about five years. "We still, to this day, believe the industry will be successful, but the fact is, it's five years away. We cannot afford to wait." In May 1990, Gougeon had predicted the resurgence of wind was two years away, but the industry has not developed as rapidly as expected. The company also makes adhesives and sealants for the marine industry and will now concentrate on that at its Bay City plant.

Bob Lynette of Advanced Wind Turbines Inc, designer of one of the advanced designs backed by NREL that uses Gougeon blades, sees Meade Gougeon's exit as a loss for the wind industry. But he's confident the technology will continue. "I'm not at all concerned that we will be able to salvage it. It's just not a problem." says Lynette. He adds that several companies are interested in taking it over.

Gougeon's wood laminate -- Douglas Fir and wood composite -- blades are known for lightness and resistance to failure, although they require more inhouse engineering as they are custom made and may not be as cheap as glass fibre for blades of six to ten metres and under.

The company first got involved in blades when it received a call from the NASA-Lewis Research Centre in the 1970s. Gougeon, with a confidence in its product and expertise, managed to sell NASA an $80,000 contract for one set of blades for the MOD-OA in Hawaii. Business increased dramatically. By the early 1980s, Gougeon was making blades for most of US turbines, except for those made by Kenetech, then called US Windpower Inc. The company's blades were used on Enertech machines and ESI, and on and the Westinghouse turbines now being retrofitted in Hawaii.

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