Belgian firm plans its American base -- Turbowinds heads for Canada

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Belgian wind turbine manufacturer, Turbowinds NV, wants to tap into the growing demand for wind energy in the Americas by establishing a manufacturing facility in Amherst, Nova Scotia. The company's wholly owned subsidiary, Turbowinds Canada Inc, plans to build a facility capable of producing between 30 and 100 of the firm's active stall 600 kW, T600-48 wind turbines each year. The Canadian subsidiary's Amherst base will also act as the sales and maintenance headquarters for all of North, Central and South America.

"Our present project is to develop sufficient orders in Canada to start the plant," says George Klass, vice-president operations for Turbowinds Canada. The company has been talking with various utilities, wind developers and large energy companies across the country, says Klass, and at the moment is "working closely with some interested parties in the Maritimes." An order for 25-30 turbines will be sufficient to get the plant operating, he says.

"I was hoping we'd see something this year, but now I'm a little apprehensive. I think it will certainly not be before 2002. Things are just not moving fast enough," says Klass. "One of the things we're facing and that everybody is facing is that there's not yet much money in energy in Canada. Energy prices are very low here. While wind's break-even point is coming down, it's still not very attractive."

canada content pilot

Turbowinds Canada, however, plans to be ready when the first order does come, says Klass. The company wants to maximise the Canadian content of each wind turbine it produces and has been identifying local suppliers for many of the larger components for the wind turbine. It has already commissioned Polymarin-Bolwell Composites, a company based in Ontario, to develop a set of prototype blades for the T600.

Turbowinds is also working on developing a pilot wind project on 1000 acres (405 hectares) of Amherst's Tantramar Marsh. The wind farm, which will start with the installation of one T600 turbine this year, will capture the winds blowing off the Bay of Fundy and serve as a showcase for the company's technology. The plan, says Klass, is to eventually have about 25 turbines on the windy flat.

Amherst's "very substantial wind resource," assessed in a year long wind study on the marsh, was one of the factors in the company's decision to locate in the town of 10,000. The location, on the border of Nova Scotia and New Brunswick, has excellent transportation links, including easy access to the Port of Halifax. The efforts and enthusiasm of Amherst's economic development committee, which initiated contact with Turbowinds NV several years ago, also impressed company officials. "I think, basically, the synergy worked well and the company felt comfortable coming here," says Klass.

Mixed pedigree

Turbowinds NV, which was established as far back as 1985, is one of a group of engineering and technology-based firms owned by Investreco NV, a family-held Belgian company founded in 1812. Originally the company's expertise was in wind-diesel systems, but in late 1995 the wind division took on a new lease of life when it was joined by a seven-man engineering team.

This team transferred allegiance to Turbowinds on the bankruptcy of its former employer, HMZ Windmaster. At the time, HMZ Windmaster was the only manufacturer of utility scale wind turbines in Belgium and had been a major player in the global wind market. Much of Turbowind's engineering rose from the Windmaster ashes.

About three years ago, says Klass, the Investreco group's directors decided to focus more resources on wind power, which they saw as a growth industry. They also saw the North American market as the vehicle to drive the company's expansion. "We feel there's a huge market potential in North America, and we want to be here at the beginning," says Klass. "Certainly we would be one of the very few manufacturers here, and we feel that once we have a turbine on the ground and people see that our technology is proven, we will generate a lot of interest."

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