MARLBORO – When Danish wind turbine manufacturer Vestas begins construction of its new center here this month, it will mark the latest development for an emerging industry in Massachusetts worth hundreds of jobs and billions of dollars.
Although highlighted by the $2.5 billion Cape Wind project approved last year – the first offshore wind farm in the U.S. – Vestas has manufactured wind farms in Princeton and Gardner, and stand-alone turbines such as the one at Holy Name High School in Worcester.
The renewable energy industry is getting financial incentives at the federal, state and local levels. State legislation is also being considered to ease approval for turbines, ending long delays that have hampered projects.
“We have certainly seen growth in the wind energy field. Since the governor took office, we have seen a 65 percent growth in the number of jobs in the clean energy field in everything from manufacturing to installation,” said Richard K. Sullivan Jr., state secretary of energy and environmental affairs.
The $16.6 million Vestas research and development complex will get $428,400 in state economic development funds. Marlboro gave it a 10-year tax break worth $1,656,031. The complex will create 66 new jobs and house 34 employees already working nearby.
Massachusetts’ biggest player is Siemens Energy, whose German parent also owns the former Morgan Construction Co. in Worcester. Cape Wind Associates chose it to build 130 turbines to be installed five miles off Cape Cod. State officials say Siemens considers Massachusetts the “gateway” to offshore wind power in the U.S.
Other companies include Mass Tank in Middleboro, which will build the monopoles. Other possible subcontractors include TPI Composites in Fall River, which manufactures turbine blades, and American Superconductor in Devens, which designs and builds electrical systems for wind turbines.
Vestas spokesman Andrew Longeteig said its new facility near Interstates 290 and 495 will focus on research and development and will test electric generators and converters for wind turbines in the North American market. It bought the site for $1.8 million in September. As of now, it has no role in Cape Wind.
“We chose Massachusetts for its workforce. There are a lot of highly educated people in Massachusetts and it’s a great pipeline of technology,” he said.
Vestas is the world’s largest turbine manufacturer, and has 22,000 employees working in 66 countries. It built the hilltop turbine at Holy Name Central Catholic High School in Worcester and two at Mt. Wachusett Community College in Gardner. It already has a total of 11,000 turbines in 30 states – many in the West and Midwest – and 44,000 worldwide. It is traded on the Nasdaq OMX exchange under VWS.
Vestas, started 135 years ago, has seen fast growth in the U.S.
“We invested $1 billion in Colorado to build up our North American manufacturing base, all since 2008. We have three manufacturing facilities on line and are about to open a fourth, in Colorado. We created 1,700 jobs in that state in the last three years,” Mr. Longeteig said.
The U.S. gets only 2 percent of its electricity from wind, far less than other countries.
“Denmark gets 20 percent of its power from wind, and Germany and Spain receive a good chunk from wind as well. China is building up quickly. Iowa gets 15 percent of its power from wind, and Texas gets 8 percent,” he said.
State grants for some alternative energy projects haven’t borne fruit. Massachusetts paid $58 million to help construct a new solar panel facility in Devens for Marlboro-based Evergreen Solar, but the company went bankrupt in August.
Energy Secretary Sullivan said although some state-backed energy projects didn’t work out, the incentive program has worked. “When you look at the initiative as a whole, it has been successful. You look at the jobs that have been created. You look at companies coming to Massachusetts and making an investment here.”
Mr. Sullivan also said wind turbine owners ultimately save money. “From a strictly bottom-line, cost-benefit analysis, they (alternative energy improvements) all make good sense financially,” he said, noting, however, some have a longer payback period.
Sullivan said legislation now being considered, called the Wind Energy Siting Reform Act, would help wind power grow while still respecting local decisions on projects. He noted that a 10-turbine wind farm in Hancock, which will generate 15 megawatts, took 13 years to get approved.
“Most developers are not going to be able to hang in there 13 years. It is a good bill because it absolutely respects local control and the responsibility to get informed, get the right information and make a decision, but to do it in a timely manner,” he said.
Opponents fear that the legislation will shift decision-making on wind projects from the local level to a state board that is more likely to approve them.
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