Requiring utilities in Ohio and other states throughout the region to build wind turbines or buy power from developer-owned farms was supposed to mean big job growth.
And it did. Ohio ranked 6th in the nation in terms of total wind industry jobs, last year, with up to 4,000 employees working for more than 50 companies, according to the American Wind Industry Association.
But now some turbine parts makers here say they are losing contracts to foreign competitors and shedding jobs in fierce competition, partly due to an oversupply of turbines compared to the demand before the global recession.
“The industry is definitely losing ground, and it’s more than just fasteners,” said Jeff Grabner, director of wind product sales at Cardinal Fastener & Specialty Co. in Bedford Heights. The company makes high-strength bolts for bridges, heavy equipment, and in recent years, turbines and turbine towers.
“It’s also other safety critical components, steel in towers, large gears, and castings,” said Grabner, explaining that foreign parts makers are somehow under-bidding U.S. companies.
Cardinal Fastener landed on the national stage after then-candidate Barack Obama showcased the company in 2008 as one that would grow with the development of renewable energy.
After Cardinal proved its bolts could meet European standards, the company began contracting with European turbine manufacturers as they established U.S. branches.
The company grew from 35 employees in the summer of 2007 to 65 last summer, said Grabner. But now, Cardinal employs about 50, he said, because of under-bidding from foreign parts makers.
The situation is so ominous that GLWN (Great Lakes Wind Network), the Cleveland-based industry clearing house for companies making parts for turbines, is organizing a national conference July 13 and 14 at Cleveland Public Hall, said Ed Weston, its director.
The American Wind Energy Association is sending one of its top policy experts to talk about what can be done, said Weston.
Rob Gramlich, a senior vice president for public policy, said the problem is not just foreign competitors. It’s that the nation does not have a predictable policy on energy.
“We have a (federal) tax credit that expires every other year,” he said. “If you build a project in 2012, you get the credit for 10 years. If you build in 2013, you get nothing.”
That hard fact is slowing turbine orders and already hurting the supply chain companies, he said, and the association is working with Congress to extend that credit.
The association is also working to persuade lawmakers to create a federal clean energy standard, something similar to what individual states have done requiring a certain amount of wind or solar, but on a national level.
The situation for companies like Cardinal could get a lot worse, said Weston. “The challenge is Asia,” he said. “A tsunami of low-cost components is headed our way. There is too much of a supply chain in China.”
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