Fort Erie plant closure another example of Liberals’ failed green-power policy, Tory energy critic charges
FORT ERIE – Ontario’s Progressive Conservatives say the permanent closure of Fort Erie wind-turbine tower manufacturer DMI Industries is just another example of the botched energy policy of Liberal Premier Dalton McGuinty’s government.
“It’s another tragedy of the Green Energy Act,” MPP Vic Fedeli, the PC party’s energy critic, told Bullet News on Friday.
“It’s unfortunate that government gives false hope to the renewable energy sector … These so-called ‘green jobs’ are only temporary,” Fedeli added.
On Friday, Bullet News was first to report the West-Fargo, North Dakota-based company is no longer willing to keep the doors open at its Fort Erie location, which has been struggling for more than a year.
Town of Fort Erie officials were notified of the decision Thursday afternoon.
The Eagle Street plant once employed 225 people but was down to just 10 employees when the decision was made to pull up stakes in Canada.
No formal announcement has been made and all attempts to reach company officials have been unsuccessful.
The decision to close comes less than a month after a rival Chinese company, TSP Canada Towers Inc., announced it’s taking over the former Dana Cananda building in Thorold and hopes to be producing its first towers within a year.
DMI Industries was one of the first green energy companies to move into the area six years ago – well in advance of the provincial Liberal government’s Green Energy Act, which has provided lucrative incentives for the development of wind and solar power in Ontario.
Originally, the company said it would create 100 jobs, but that number nearly doubled as orders for wind towers rolled in and production ramped up.
But the company saw orders dry up last year due to political uncertainty about the future of the Green Energy Act, which the opposition Progressive Conservatives had promised to scrap if they had formed government following last October’s provincial election.
The company said it was forced to begin laying off its highly skilled workforce last fall after it failed to qualify for a federal assistance program aimed at retaining the employees until market conditions improved.
Following last month’s announcement by TSP Canada Towers Inc., Mayor Martin complained publicly that the provincial government and Niagara Region had been sectretly working for two-years to lure another wind-tower manufacturer to Ontario and Niagara at a time when DMI Industries was struggling.
“This has a direct and negative impact on a company in Fort Erie,” Martin warned at the time of the TSP announcement last month.
“There’s only a limited number of these towers going up. We’re very concerned about the decision of the province and Niagara Economic Development (Corporation) to bring in direct competition,” the mayor added.
Jim Thibert, general manager of the Fort Erie Economic Development and Tourism Corporation, told Bullet News he believes there were a number of factors that played into the decision to close, with the announcement by TSP Canada Towers being the final straw.
Thibert said the province’s Green Energy Act and its $7-billion deal with Korean giant Samsung to jump start the wind and solar energy sector in Ontario should have been a boon to companies like DMI Industriues, which were already here and established.
Instead, Thibert said the “preferential treatment” afforded Samsung saw that company help establish another wind-tower manufacturer, CS Wind Canada, in Windsor, in May 2011.
“They (DMI) got screwed,” said Thibert.
Niagara Falls MPP Kim Craitor, however, bristled at the suggestion the provincial Liberal government and its green-energy policies are somehow to blame.
“That’s bullshit,” a frustrated Craitor told Bullet News, Thursday evening.
Craitor said he too received a call from DMI’s president, who explained the reasons for the company’s decision to close the Fort Erie plant.
Craitor said had the company been approved last fall for the federal employment grant, they could have managed to keep their workforce intact during the industry slowdown. That could have seen DMI Industries through until market conditions approve.
Craitor blames Ontario PC leader Tim Hudak , who grew up in Fort Erie and once represented the riding in the Legislature, for causing political uncertainly around the future of wind energy in Ontario should there be a change in government.
“I’m frustrated and I’m sad,” said Craitor.
“We wouldn’t be in this position (with DMI) if there had been a clear signal in favour of wind power (from) Hudak during the election.
“My personal feeling is the Conservatives got what they wanted – they closed the plant.”
Fedeli, however, blamed the Liberals for not doing their due diligence before taking Ontario down the current policy path and entering into the Samsung agreement.
“The whole file is mismanaged,” said Fedeli. “They didn’t do a comprehensive business plan before they barreled into this.”
While the McGuinty government is fond of making big announcements when wind and solar companies start up, taking credit for new jobs, there has been a whole string of closures, particularly in the solar industry.
Some companies were lured by the prospect of huge subsidies, but when the incentives were decreased the companies closed shop.
In the meantime, said Fedeli, it’s Ontario families who are paying the price in terms of higher energy prices and lost economic opportunities, because high electricity bills are driving manufacturers to move to other competing jurisdictions in the U.S. and Canada.
“It’s a vicious cycle,” said Fedeli. “This government should just admit they were wrong.”
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