European investment blows into U.S. wind market

Two European companies recently made major capital investments in the U.S. wind energy market, committing to stateside manufacturing facilities that will prepare them for a new wave of wind farm development across the United States.

With wind energy capacity in the United States scheduled to jump significantly over the next seven months, these companies will be creating new jobs as they respond to the market`s potential.

NEG Micon USA Inc., a Danish subsidiary based in Rolling Meadows, Ill., recently opened a wind turbine assembly plant in Champaign, Ill., while LM Glasfiber Inc., also from Denmark, will soon open a wind turbine blade manufacturing plant in the formerly flood-devastated town of Grand Forks, N.D.

“The clean energy equipment manufacturing and assembly industry is anticipated to be a very large source of new manufacturing jobs in the 21st century,” said Randall Swisher, the American Wind Energy Association`s (AWEA) executive director. “The U.S., with large geographical areas that are well-suited to wind power, stands to reap major economic benefits as this industry grows.”

The plants are the first to be built in the new era of large commercial wind farms, featuring MW-scale turbines reaching as high as 370 feet at the tip of the blade. With this new influx of wind farm construction, U.S. wind capacity will rise from 1,680 MW at the beginning of this year to more than 2,400 MW by mid-1999 (see figure). In 1997, the U.S. wind industry generated 3.5 billion kWh of electricity, enough to power more than 350,000 average homes and displace more than 2.7 million tons of carbon dioxide (CO2).

At the new 60,000-square-foot NEG Micon plant in Champaign, employees are working to assemble several hundred wind turbines within six months.

“We`ve only been in operation for about six weeks now, and we`ve already assembled 13 wind turbines for delivery,” said Leif G. Johansen, NEG Micon`s chief operating officer of North American operations. “In the first six months of next year (1999), we expect to assemble and deliver more than 250 wind turbines across the U.S.”

NEG Micon anticipates hiring and training an additional 25 employees to help meet the large demand for the state-of-the-art wind machines. Johansen says the new facility is capable of assembling more than 400 wind turbines per year.

Production of fiberglass rotor blades that harvest the wind will begin in spring of 1999 at a new manufacturing plant in Grand Forks. LM Glasfiber said that 50 to 60 full-time jobs would be available immediately.

“This is a big deal from our point of view,” said Pat Downs of the Grand Forks Region Economic Development Corp. “They are a technology company. There`s some science involved and some skilled labor.”

Company spokesman Craig Hoiseth said LM Glasfiber had been closely studying the U.S. wind energy market and decided it could best serve industry customers by siting a manufacturing facility in the United States.

“LM Glasfiber strongly believes there is a bright future for wind energy in the U.S., which is why we chose to build a plant here,” said Hoiseth.

The 83,000-square-foot plant is currently under construction, and will begin crafting blades for the North American market and potentially for export.

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