EBENSBURG – Gamesa’s supporters are concentrated in this west-central Pennsylvania hamlet, where the Spanish windmill maker built a $50 million factory last summer.
The plant, which makes blades for wind turbines, employs as many as 300 residents in union jobs.
At a packed public hearing on the proposed Shaffer Mountain wind farm on Aug. 28, opponents far outnumbered supporters. But the supporters included about 40 of the factory workers, who arrived in a bus chartered by the United Steelworkers union.
In their yellow T-shirts, they stood out among the more than 600 people jammed into the Shade High School gymnasium in Cairnbrook.
“It was a spontaneous attendance,” said Michael Peck, senior communications consultant for Gamesa. “The guys felt their jobs were in jeopardy. They wanted to come and show their support.”
The plant has a production backlog until 2009, but the workers still felt it was important to support the Shaffer Mountain proposal.
“Every wind farm is important to us,” Peck said.
If Gamesa allows “know-nothingism and disinformation” to drive it away, the future of the Ebensburg plant could be in jeopardy, he added. The Rendell administration provided $9.3 million in state incentives for Gamesa to build the factory.
Opponents of the wind farm say they have every right to challenge Gamesa. And they doubt anyone will lose a job if Shaffer Mountain is defeated.
With the blades checking in at six tons and 135-feet long, the Ebensburg factory has a huge floor with massive cranes and machinery. Each of the two production lines can turn out one blade per day.
Despite the machinery, much of the work still is done by hand.
Workers create the blades by layering fiberglass fabric and paper around a frame. A central spar provides strength and stability to the blade. The final product is placed in a huge press and allowed to cure.
Gamesa had problems after the plant opened. Blades from the factory were used to build the Allegheny Ridge wind farm in nearby Portage. Last March, large pieces of some of the blades flew off and landed in trees as far as 500 feet away.
The problem eventually was blamed on how the resin, or glue used in the production process, was applied by workers.
Chris Edwards, site construction manager at Allegheny Ridge, said all 120 blades in Phase I of the project were replaced by Gamesa.
The turbines loomed like modern sculpture on this foggy day, creating a soft, but noticeable hum as the blades turned, or a slightly louder creaking noise when the turbine turned to find the wind.
Allegheny Ridge is owned by Babcock & Brown, an Australian company. Gamesa touts Allegheny Ridge as evidence it can build a wind farm on Shaffer Mountain without harming the environment, especially Piney Run and Clear Shade Creek.
They are two of the state’s 28 Exceptional Value streams, meaning they are considered the best and are protected against development that would impair their quality. Only 2 percent of state streams are in this category.
An Exceptional Value stream is near Allegheny Ridge, and Gamesa says it has not been damaged by the project.
By David DeKok
Of The Patriot-News
16 September 2007
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