Slowdowns at Gamesa diminish operation in Bucks

Gamesa USA will maintain its facility in Fairless Hills, Bucks County, though with far fewer workers than when it opened in 2005.
Gamesa USA will maintain its facility in Fairless Hills, Bucks County, though with far fewer workers than when it opened in 2005. (ED HILLE / Staff Photographer)
Posted: January 31, 2014

The U.S. branch of the Spanish wind turbine manufacturer Gamesa is facing some stiff headwinds.

Gamesa USA on Monday gave notice that it will close its Western Pennsylvania plant, which manufactures giant turbine blades, and eliminate the 62 remaining jobs by the end of March.

And the outlook is only slightly brighter at Gamesa's manufacturing operations in Fairless Hills, Bucks County, which opened to much fanfare in 2005.

"We used to have 500 workers at Fairless Hills," said Lew Dopson, the subdistrict director for the United Steelworkers union. "Now we have eight. I'm not optimistic about the future there, that's for sure."

Gamesa, which maintains its U.S. headquarters in Trevose, Bucks County, said Tuesday closing the plant in Ebensburg was prompted by a shift in the market from Pennsylvania and the Midwest to the Southwest. Blades will now be supplied from other plants.

The Fairless Hills plant, which once manufactured blades, steel towers, and nacelles - the generators that sit atop the steel towers - now is primarily a warehouse for field operations servicing turbines.

Gamesa spokesman Kurt Knaus said the company planned to maintain activity at Fairless Hills.

"We have a service organization, repair circuit, and warehouse located there," he said. "We also maintain a limited nacelles capacity at Fairless Hills."

The U.S. wind turbine industry has suffered from a feast-or-famine existence linked to subsidies.

A federal production tax credit, which provided wind generators with 2.3 cents per kilowatt hour for 10 years, sparked a frenzy of construction before it expired at the end of 2012. The tax credit was restored through the end of 2013 but did not inspire another boom.

Gamesa in December signed a "framework agreement" with EDP Renewables to produce up to 225 of its latest generation of turbines through 2016. But its unclear whether any will be built in Bucks County.

"We have various choices and will make that decision when the time comes," Knaus said. "We do know that a few nacelles will come from Europe."

The Gamesa plant, lured to Bucks County by tax credits from Gov. Ed Rendell's administration, has been visited twice by President Obama - once in 2008 when he was a candidate, and most recently in 2011.

"I think that what you do here is a glimpse of the future, and it's a future where America is less dependent on foreign oil, more reliant on clean energy produced by workers like you," Obama said in 2011.

Gamesa is contracting operations globally and announced last year it would shut 24 offices worldwide, cut 2,600 jobs, and seek more sales in emerging markets.


amaykuth@phillynews.com

215-854-2947 @Maykuth

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