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A Spanish wind turbine maker puts down roots in Pittsburgh. Yes, Pittsburgh.
Adding to bankers’ unwillingness to lend is the lack of regulatory certainty, both in what happens with the Copenhagen accord and in Congress with climate change legislation, which is supposed to set targets for reducing greenhouse gas and establish a cap-and-trade system for industry. Those loose ends lead to regulatory uncertainly — the bane of any growing industry.
Peck said the industry would like commitments on how much of the nation’s energy portfolio will be dedicated to renewable energy, which would create an instant market boost for wind manufacturing and installations, keeping the U.S. as the world’s largest market for production, generation and new installations.
The wind industry has been lobbying for a national renewable electricity standard of at least 25 percent by 2025. The industry argues that with the right incentives and new technology, wind power could account for 20 percent of the U.S. electrical supply in 20 years. Pennsylvania’s energy portfolio calls for the use of 18 percent of the state’s electricity to come from renewables by 2021.
“You set a floor for expectations and that’s what drives the investment," said Peck.
Overall, the industry has seen a slowdown in the growth rate of wind power installations, estimating a 20 percent rate this year compared with a 50 percent one in 2008.
The slowdown has hit Gamesa. About 150 workers in Ebensburg will be on temporary layoff or reassignment starting next month. In the meantime, the company is upgrading the facility to be ready when orders come in again. Previously, every blade made at the plant was sold.
Most of the jobs that have been created in Pennsylvania have roots in the steel industry. The United Steelworkers unionized the facilities as part of its goal to create high-paying jobs that also are environmentally sound. The fabrication of wind turbines relies on experienced machinists, welders and other skilled workers. Former coal and steel workers often fit the bill.
Rob Witherell, a representative of the Steelworkers in Pittsburgh, said when news got out that Gamesa was hiring in Ebensburg, 3,000 applicants showed up for 200 jobs.
Troy Galloway was one of the hires.
A steelworker in Johnstown who got laid off after 15 years with U.S. Steel, Galloway tried to sell real estate and started a construction company. Neither could support his family. In 2006, he landed on Gamesa’s payroll, using his machining and computer skills at the new Ebensburg facility.
“It’s a feel-good job,” said Galloway, “because you know you are doing something good for the environment.” He said he gets to see the fruits of his labor in the blades’ plant when he sees a local wind farm on his way to work everyday.
“It’s heat in the winter and air-conditioning in the summer,’ said Galloway. “You didn’t see that in the mills.”