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Industry loses puff from sales

www.theage.com.au

By Rod Myer
August 28, 2006

The Portland factory manufacturing blades for wind turbines appears safe despite a decision by its owner, Danish wind technology producer Vestas, to close its wind generator factory in Wynyard, Tasmania.

No Vestas official was available on the weekend to speak about the future of Portland.

But industry sources said the Portland factory would continue operating because it had a strong order book and was conducting a healthy export trade to Asia.

Vestas opened the Wynyard plant, which produces the generation boxes fitted to wind towers, in 2003 at a time when Hydro Tasmania was embarking on an ambitious expansion of wind energy in the state.

But when the expected expansion of the Federal Government’s Mandated Renewable Energy Target scheme did not happen, growth possibilities for the wind industry was severely curtailed.

Hydro Tasmania is completing its last scheduled wind farm in the state, and the industry is facing the end of its growth period nationwide, as the subsidy available under MRET runs out.

The industry has some hope of reigniting growth in Victoria and South Australia as both states are bringing in their own schemes to boost renewable energy.

Vestas’ chief in Australia, Lee Whiteley, said in a statement the company would end assembly operations at Wynyard at the end of the year.

“This decision is the result of a review of future assembly opportunity in the region, and comes after careful consideration of a number of key factors, including current and medium-term market conditions and logistics.”

The Wynyard plant employs about 65 people. Its closure is likely to have knock-on effects on other Tasmanian companies servicing the industry.

Mark Kelleher, managing director of the Roaring 40s wind farm development company, said the closure was “pretty disappointing” for Tasmania and the Australian industry generally.

Rob Clancy, a spokesman for the wind industry lobby group Auswind, said the closure was a result of the Federal Government’s “refusal to provide incentives” for renewable energy.

“The market would have been there if the Government had wanted it to develop,” he said.

Federal Industry Minister Ian Macfarlane said the major reason for the closure was the turbines built at Wynyard were now out of date.

“It’s unfortunate, but this is a commercial decision,” he said.

“Wind farm operators are now seeking larger turbines than those made by Vestas.

“No government policy is going to change that.”