by Teresa Hansen, editor in chief
The Kansas landscape has been scattered with wind turbines since the pioneers began to settle the plains. Many early wind turbines, used mainly to pump water, have vanished, but replacing them are much larger, modern wind turbines used to generate electricity.
According to the National Renewable Energy Laboratory, Kansas, in the heart of the nation’s wind corridor, is second only to Texas in its potential to generate electricity from wind. This statistic alone might not have been enough to convince Siemens Wind Power to locate its first U.S. nacelle production facility in Kansas, but it didn’t hurt.
Siemens on Dec. 3 celebrated the grand opening of the new 300,000-square-foot facility in Hutchinson, Kan. Nearly 450 people attended the unveiling of the first Siemens nacelle produced in the United States. The Hutchinson High School marching band played, fireworks exploded and the crowd cheered as a nearby locomotive pulled away with another nacelle bound for a wind project near Puget Sound, Wash. That project will receive Hutchinson’s first 149 units. Local officials and dignitaries, Siemens executives, Kansas Sen. and Gov.-elect Sam Brownback, Rep. and Sen.-elect Jerry Moran, Lt. Gov. Troy Findley and the plant’s employees–some of Siemens’ newest–attended.
Eric Spiegel, Siemens U.S. president and CEO, said Siemens has created some 3,000 clean energy jobs and has invested more than $400 million in renewable energy in the U.S. during the past few years.
“In 2004, Siemens employed one person in its U.S. wind energy division,” Spiegel said. “Today, we have more than 1,500 employees working in our U.S. wind energy business.”
The Hutchinson plant employs about 130 people. Siemens expects that number to triple when the plant is running at its full potential.
The ingenuity of its people is the No. 1 reason Siemens is investing in the United States, Spiegel said. RenÃ© Umlauft, Siemens Renewables Energy Division CEO, said that Siemens’ key goal is to produce an all-American wind turbine that is cost-competitive. The company’s first U.S. wind blade manufacturing facility opened recently in Fort Madison, Iowa.
Umlauft said the cost of wind energy must be brought down to that of coal, and the Hutchinson plant will help Siemens do that. The nacelles are assembled with parts from more than 70 countries using the latest lean manufacturing techniques. In addition, Siemens projects the new plant will be the first U.S. manufacturing facility to receive LEED Gold Standard certification.
“This facility uses the newest manufacturing technology for wind nacelles, which is bringing down the cost of wind energy,” Umlauft said.
Brownback told the crowd that the facility’s grand opening is great news for the Hutchinson community and Kansas. One of his goals as the state’s new governor will be to make Kansas the renewable energy state by expanding renewable energy production and manufacturing, he said.
“Renewable energy infrastructure expansion is critical as America looks for ways to decrease its dependence on foreign and nonrenewable energy resources,” Brownback said.
The country must adopt a modest renewable energy standard, as well as extend the wind energy production tax credit, Brownback said. Building more power lines to transport renewable energy is critical.
Moran, who will fill Brownback’s vacant Senate seat in 2011, echoed Brownback’s transmission comments. Moran said he will work to develop transmission lines to transport wind energy. The renewable industry needs a long-term tax credit, and he will support an “appropriate” renewable energy standard, Moran said.
“This celebration is more than just a normal ribbon cutting,” he said. “It is a very special occurrence; a change in the landscape of the economy of Kansas.”
Kevin Hazel, vice president of supply chain management for Siemens Wind Power in America, said the company considered about 80 sites in 13 states when looking for a home for the more than $30 million production facility. He said the teamwork displayed at city, county, state and federal levels impressed the company. In addition, access to the highway and rail line to ship completed nacelles to wind farm projects in the U.S. and the Americas was important in the selection.
According to a Dec. 4 article in The Hutchinson News, the city and state offered other incentives. The article said Siemens received $5 million in bond financing from the state, which will be paid off from withholding taxes generated by the project’s new jobs. The city also gave Siemens 108 acres in the Salt City Business Park, $1 million and the promise of an additional $150,000 in equal installments from 2010 to 2013. Reno County provided $700,000 and South Hutchinson provided $150,000 more. Siemens also received $4.3 million in federal tax credits, the article said.
Companies that will support nacelles production already are locating to Hutchinson, the lieutenant governor said.
Ground broke on the plant in September 2009. The facility began production about two months before the grand opening celebration. Four nacelles were completed and prepared for shipment during the first two months.
The first nacelles produced in Hutchison will be used in Siemens’ 2.3-MW wind turbines. The plant’s goal is to assemble 15 of the 185,000-pound nacelles each week by the end of 2011. To reach this goal, according to the plant’s process engineer, each nacelle must be assembled in about 30 hours. Later in 2011, nacelles for Siemens’ new 3-MW, direct-drive, or gearless, wind turbine also will be assembled at the plant.