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Blade and tower jobs hit -- Slowdown in America

The slowdown in the American wind turbine market this year has so far cost nearly 650 jobs in rotor blade manufacture and nearly 400 in tower fabrication across six companies. More job losses are expected, says Denise Bode, new executive director of the American Wind Energy Association. Of 80,000 direct wind industry jobs in the US, she fears 30,000 are at risk if political action to shore up financing for new wind farms does not come quickly.

Danish blade maker LM Glasfiber is idling a factory in Little Rock, Arkansas, firing over 150 workers. The plant was LM's first in Little Rock and was complemented by a newer, larger facility in the fall. As recently as October, the firm had planned to keep both factories open. But it now says the credit crunch and weaker blade demand requires that it close the first facility and lay off the workers indefinitely.

Competing US blade supplier TPI Composites in Newton, Iowa, has delayed a near 10,000 square metre expansion planned to its existing facility and postponed filling 300 job vacancies that had been promised to the local economy in 2009. In Pennsylvania, news is mixed at the US operations of Spanish wind turbine company Gamesa. It has eliminated 184 of 706 jobs at a Fairless Hills factory unit that made only a mid-size blade in lower demand. Blade work will be shifted to its Ebensburg factory, also in Pennsylvania, that makes larger blades.

More positively, Gamesa says it will convert the newly vacant space at Fairless Hills for future nacelle production. The company wants to entirely divest itself of tower production and is negotiating to have a foreign tower manufacturer take over its Pennsylvania tower facility, Gamesa's only remaining tower fabrication unit, according to local press reports.

The wind turbine towers business in North America, however, may be the worst hit of the component sectors. DMI Industries is firing about 20% of its workforce, just under 200, across its three tower facilities in North Dakota, Oklahoma and Ontario, Canada. Trinity Structural Tower is dismissing 130 workers at its Tulsa, Oklahoma facility and Aerisyn is dropping 54 workers at its Chattanooga, Tennessee factory.

Bode says firms such as DMI who have laid off workers are prepared to bring them back if the US wind market rights itself. But the dynamics that caused domestic manufacturing of components to grow from 20% a couple of years ago to 50% today can just as quickly reverse if the market is not allowed to recover, she warns.

Component manufacturers in countries exporting to the US are also suffering. "During the last several months, the fundamental market situation has dramatically changed because of the worldwide financial crisis and threatening recession," says Sunny Kang from Korean tower manufacturer Win & P. "For this reason, many wind companies, including us, are having difficulties realising and developing the wind projects as originally scheduled," he adds. "Especially in regards to the tower activity in the United States, some of our projects have been delayed or cancelled." He remains hopeful the situation may see some improvement through 2009.

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