Region's green jobs depend on U.S. policy

Wind turbines being built last year at Gamesa USA in Fairless Hills at the former U.S. Steel plant.
Wind turbines being built last year at Gamesa USA in Fairless Hills at the former U.S. Steel plant. (Roslyn Rudolph)

A wind-power firm is urging the U.S. to act.

Posted: August 23, 2009

The winds of change blew across the rapidly evolving green-technology landscape earlier this year, taking with them nearly 200 jobs from Lower Bucks County.

The latest generation of wind turbines needs bigger blades than the 140-foot-long, 6-ton models that Gamesa Technology Corp. Inc. has been making at its factory in Fairless Hills.

So company officials announced 184 layoffs in January and said the blade work would be transferred to a larger Gamesa plant in the center of the state, near Altoona.

And just that fast, manufacturing jobs that Spain-based Gamesa had delivered to this region less than three years earlier - aided by more than $10 million in financial incentives from Harrisburg - were gone.

About 300 employees remain at the Fairless site, on more than 20 acres of what was the sprawling U.S. Steel Corp. Fairless Works complex. They produce giant hubs for wind turbines and 80-ton nacelles, compartments that hold the components used to generate power. It is largely metal and electrical work.

What the future has in store for the plant - and the wind industry overall - depends on a variety of factors, said Gamesa spokesman Michael Peck.

"The wind industry right now is in a very delicate position. . . . [It] is going through the same credit crisis every other industry is going through," Peck said.

The United States - which installed 8,358 megawatts of new wind-generation capacity last year and is forecast to add 8,000 this year - is poised to become an industry leader, Peck and other industry experts say.

Whether it does so will depend, in large part, on Congress' passing "a strong and robust renewable-energy standard" that puts an incentive on the use of wind energy and creation of related jobs, Peck said.

"It's so important for the U.S. to get its manufacturing-investment politics right," he said, noting that wind-turbine manufacturers were scouring China, Europe, and the United States for sites to set up production facilities.

"The U.S. is in the hottest competition," Peck said. "If it doesn't get the right regulations in time, it will miss the next wave in investment" by the wind industry.

Gamesa has invested $200 million in establishing manufacturing plants and support operations in Pennsylvania - including a U.S. headquarters in Center City - largely because the state has a workforce "very highly skilled in anything that has to do with metal," said Martin Avila, manager of the Bucks County plant.

He and Peck also credited the efforts of the Rendell administration, including traveling to Spain to lure Gamesa to the state and pushing for the passage of $650 million in funding now available for development of renewable- and alternative-energy technologies.

"If the global credit crisis eases up and the plans of [the Obama] administration to green up this country are realized," Peck said, "we will be looking for [more] good people from Pennsylvania to man our factories."


Contact staff writer Diane Mastrull at 215-854-2466 or dmastrull@phillynews.com.

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