Hopes blowing in the wind

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The burgeoning wind turbine industry could create more than 5,000 jobs in Ontario during the next five years, delegates to a London conference heard yesterday

All that’s needed are manufacturers to invest in wind turbine manufacturing and government polices to support business.

“(That is) provided we get our act together and people take risks and educate themselves and chase contracts with major wind turbine manufacturers,” said Helge Wittholz, an industry consultant who spoke at the seminar.

“It takes effort. It won’t be easy.”

But the effort is worth it, he added, with the sector growing at 25% a year as other manufacturing industries decline.

“It is growing so fast there is a shortage in manufacturing capacity. If you need an industry, you have to create a market.”

Wittholz, a partner in Synova, a Miton-based energy firm, urged the Ontario and federal governments to step up support for the sector and for manufacturers to do the work needed.

“There has been a lot of lip service, a lot of talk, but policies have to be implemented.”

Ontario has few manufacturers of wind turbine parts, with none in the London area, and Canada has only two small makers of turbines — both in Quebec.

Bill Kydd, an official with Hi-Tech Controls in London, believes there may be growth potential in the sector, but is frustrated at what he sees as lack of support for small industry looking to make the change.

“There is a lot of talk, but we are competing against existing (U.S.) businesses doing this for 15 years. We need help.” he said.

Kydd’s east London company makes cooling systems for vehicles and machinery in industry and wind turbines need cooling systems he can supply — but he’s run into a wall of bureaucracy trying to get started.

“We are finding it difficult to get assistance. We tried working with (business support agencies) here in London and it was very frustrating. It soured us.”

His cooling industry has seen sales drop by half during five years, staff has been slashed from 45 to 15 and the turbine industry may be at risk of staying in business, he says.

But Jeff Bakker, an industrial electrician in Goderich with Meier Machining, undergoing a name change to Farm Energy Supply, believes this is an industry that might be worth tackling, no matter the hurdles. And his Huron County home is rich in wind turbines.

“There is potential, huge potential in this industry. In Goderich, we have large buildings that are empty, a harbour, a skilled workforce, engineers from (the now-closed) Volvo plant looking for work,” said Bakker.

“We can make hubs, parts and ship them to the U.S. We can do the casting work here.”

Officials with Ontario’s Ministry of Economic Development and Trade said at the seminar they’ve tried, unsuccessfully, for several years to woo a wind turbine manufacturer to Ontario.

Ontario manufacturers now only supply about 5% of the parts for turbines here, delegates heard. In fact, the parts for turbines are so large that just shipping some — such as hubs, rotors and blades — can add 50% to a part’s cost, they were told.

Ray Givens, owner of Givens Engineering in London that makes lifting equipment for industry, sees many hurdles for local industries considering the wind industry. Parts are massive, often requiring castings of 10 to 15 tonnes. Also, the sector is already well served by U.S. suppliers, meaning a local industry has to be better-quality and cheaper to crack the market.

“I am a manufacturer looking to diversify, but this is an industry that is well developed. The market is very competitive and the parts may be too big for us to handle,” said Givens, who has cut his workforce to 12, down 50%, as sales have plummeted about 40%.

“What this industry needs is an established company, big enough, who believe they can do it. That would do the trick. “

From 2000 to 2006, Canada increased its use of wind energy by 51%, to about 2,000 megawatts this year, and forecasts see that rising to 12,000 megawatts by 2014. Globally, forecasts see wind power providing 800,000 megawatts by 2018 from about 100,000 this year.

The Ontario Innovation Demonstration Fund is a four-year, $50-million fund making $100,000 to $4 million available per project for sustainable energy initiatives.

The meeting was held at the London Club following a survey of regional manufacturers in London, Sarnia-Lambton, Chatham-Kent, Huron County, Canada’s technology triangle and Guelph.

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