Wind turbine makers seek suppliers

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INDIANAPOLIS — U.S. wind turbine manufacturers with large, experienced European parents are seeking long-term partnerships with American suppliers to provide turbine components.

“The supply chain is not a mature industry here,” said Gene Cuenot, vice president of global purchasing and supply chain for Vestas Nacelles Americas. “There are far more mature suppliers in Europe.”

Cuenot, whose office is in Chicago, spoke at the second annual WIndiana conference this week.

A Danish company, Vestas is building a supply chain in the United States to avoid having to import turbines here from Europe.

“We buy metal commodities,” Cuenot said.

Wind turbine components include rotors, shafts, gear boxes, brakes, motors, fiberglass blades, steel towers, bearings, pumps, weldings, castings, transformers, sheet metal, hydraulics, pumps, plastics, wires and cables.

Vestas is seeking dual or multiple suppliers for the various components because of explosive growth in the wind energy industry.

The U.S. wind energy industry installed more than 8,300 megawatts in 2008, expanding the nation’s total wind-power generating capacity by 50 percent and surpassing Germany as the world’s largest producer of wind energy.

However, the U.S. still derives only two percent of its electricity from wind, while Denmark obtains 20 percent of its electricity from wind.

“Why anyone would import things of this size and weight is a mystery to me,” Gov. Mitch Daniels said during the two-day conference.

“Why anyone would import things of this size and weight is a mystery to me,” Gov. Mitch Daniels said during the two-day conference.

Some components, like the steel towers, are relatively easy to make, while others require fine machining and are as difficult to make as submarine parts, said Marguerite Kelly, a senior project manager at the National Renewable Energy Laboratory.

A typical wind farm requires hundreds of thousands of tons of aggregate and tens of thousands of cubic yards of concrete — all purchased locally — for foundations, access roads and other construction needs, said Ryan Brown of Houston-based Horizon Wind Energy, whose parent is a Portuguese company.

Oliver Viehweider, managing director of VAT Getriebetechnik, based in Germany, spoke on supply chain basics during the conference attended by more than 600 people.

VAT-Energies and VAT-Service are starting up new businesses in Delaware County to service wind turbines and manufacture solar/wind-powered street lights and wind turbines.

An Italian company, Brevini, is locating a wind-turbine gearbox manufacturing plant in Delaware County.

Brevini’s Jacopo Tozzi spoke about supply chain nuts and bolts during the conference.

The governor said Indiana was honored that Brevini and VAT chose Delaware County.

With Indiana’s low cost of doing business, including low taxes, and its pro-business climate, “we hope to be a premier home for this industry,” Daniels said.

The state’s utility regulatory commission, department of environmental management and office of energy development are “here for you,” Lt. Gov. Becky Skillman told representatives of the wind industry.

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