When Cape Wind Associates signed a letter of intent to buy the foundations for its offshore turbines from a Middleboro company, it offered hope that the controversial wind farm would generate good-paying local manufacturing jobs.
But now it’s possible that those monopoles – the hollow steel foundations for the turbine towers that would be driven into the seabed – might not be made here after all.
The actual turbines are expected to be built by Siemens in Europe. But Gov. Deval Patrick hailed the agreement between Cape Wind and Mass Tank Sales Corp. in October 2010 to build the monopoles as proof that Cape Wind could generate manufacturing jobs here in Massachusetts. The Patrick administration said the deal could create anywhere from 100 to 300-plus local jobs. Patrick summed it up this way: “This is what our clean energy future is all about.”
Not so fast. Cape Wind spokesman Mark Rodgers told me last week that Boston-based Cape Wind is still in talks with potential vendors to build the monopoles and no decision has been made. Cape Wind just started studying the Nantucket Sound seabed where the project would be built to help design the giant poles that would hold the turbines.
The delayed timeline for Cape Wind’s construction – the company is now shooting for a 2013 start – has frustrated the executives at Mass Tank. Although the letter of intent they signed with Cape Wind was nonbinding, CEO Carl Horstmann and COO Randy Kupferberg tell me they remain hopeful their company will be picked for the job.
However, they realize that competitors from Europe or China may be able to offer lower-cost alternatives that are more attractive to Cape Wind chief Jim Gordon and his colleagues. They say much could be determined by the company Cape Wind picks to be what’s known as the balance-of-plant contractor, essentially the project’s general contractor.
They had been looking at a few waterfront sites in Southeastern Massachusetts to build a new wind turbine foundation plant, one that would be owned by a Mass Tank-led joint venture. (Congressman Bill Keating was pushing to get Mass Tank to build at the Fore River Shipyard in Quincy.) Mass Tank obviously couldn’t commit to a lease or to major equipment purchases without a definitive timeline for Cape Wind, a project that continues to be beset with delays. Horstmann says no final decision has been made on a site yet.
“Everybody’s intention was to do this a while ago (but) there always seems to be another obstacle in Cape Wind’s path,” Horstmann says.
The Cape Wind job would have provided a huge boost to Mass Tank, which typically employs 30 to 60 people at its Middleboro plant. Horstmann says he has hoped that the new factory, if it’s built, would last long after the Cape Wind project is completed as other wind turbine developers ideally would rely on the new plant for the expertise and equipment that would be in place there.
Horstmann says he has no idea now when he’ll hear from Gordon and Cape Wind if Mass Tank will get the job. Horstmann says Gordon is still supportive of Mass Tank’s bid but also has to be conscientious about keeping costs under control.
“Two years ago, we thought we would be in production by now,” Kupferberg says. “(But) we haven’t lost sight of our original objective: to help build a supply chain to create a solid base of manufacturing jobs.”