Naperville, Ill.-based manufacturer Broadwind Energy plans to use a recent visit by President Obama as a way to springboard the company's fortunes. During a visit to Broadwind Energy's Manitowoc, Wis.-based tower manufacturing facility, Obama was able to see how a wind turbine tower is manufactured – from raw plate steel through the process of forming, welding, painting and moving a completed tower section, which could weigh up to 200 tons.
Broadwind CEO Peter Duprey and plant manager Chris Wallander led Obama through the facility, where he stopped several times to talk with employees, including Melissa Peters, a welder who was so taken with meeting the president that she hugged him, Duprey explains.
‘She took off her welding mask, then started to shake his hand, then she hugged him. [Peters] got a kick out of it, and [the president] got a kick out of it,’ he says. ‘I'm not sure the Secret Service got a kick out of it though.’
Broadwind plans to use the visit as a way to market job creation.
‘In many respects, we are the poster child,’ Duprey says, citing that after years of serving as a manufacturing plant for World War II-era submarines, the Manitowoc facility was ‘pretty much idle by 2004.’ However, federal incentives spurred the growth of the wind industry, and the facility now employs 300.
Duprey says Obama's visit shows the value in supporting wind energy. It creates jobs, brings back manufacturing and carries a stable cost of energy.
‘If we can use his visit to get [those messages across], then his visit was a success,’ he says.
Obama's visit, fresh off the heels of his State of the Union address, underscores the many benefits of renewable energy, including stimulating local economies such as Manitowoc and driving innovation in the U.S. – innovation the president is calling for to regain the country's global leadership position.
However, a tough economy makes Obama's call for action a tougher sell.
‘This has been a pretty tough environment in which to operate,’ admits Duprey, whose tower and gearbox businesses depend on a healthy wind industry for their success.
Last year, the wind industry installed 5,115 MW of wind capacity, according to the American Wind Energy Association – barely half of the record pace set in 2009.
Duprey claims that tower imports from Asia are making it difficult for domestic manufacturers, such as Broadwind, to compete because lower labor and raw material costs in Asia give foreign tower manufacturers an advantage over domestic manufacturers.
Undeterred, Duprey says Broadwind Energy will increase its efforts to integrate its bearing, towers and service businesses. For example, Broadwind plans to dedicate a gearbox remanufacturing facility in Abilene, Texas, on Feb. 10.
Duprey believes that Broadwind has a good foundation; now, he just needs the wind industry to follow suit.
‘We have the right building blocks in place, assuming the industry has a stable energy policy going forward,’ he says, referring to a renewable electricity standard (RES), which would mandate that utilities derive a percentage of their electricity from renewable sources, such as wind energy.
Duprey says the president spoke of the need for stable long-term energy policy during the visit, adding that Obama told him that there was a chance to get an RES passed this year with bipartisan support.
Photo courtesy of Broadwind Energy