FORT ERIE – In another heavy blow to Fort Erie, wind-turbine tower manufacturer DMI Industries -once the darling of Niagara’s fledgling green-energy industry – is closing permanetly.
The Fargo, North Dakota-based company is apparently 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 Thursday were 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.
Fort Erie Mayor Doug Martin, who had been worried about the fate of DMI for sometime, said he was contacted directly by the company’s president Thursday and informed of the decision.
“I’m disappointed but not surprised,” Martin told Bullet News.
All efforts will no be put into assisting the company find a buyer for the facility, one which will hopefully bring another form of manufacturing to the area.
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 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, tells 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.
It was Thibert and former Mayor Wayne Redekop who put together the team of local stake holders, including representatives local utilities, the business community and the Buffalo and Fort Erie Public Bridge Authority, who helped lure DMI Industries to Fort Erie.
The company set up shop in a massive building once owned by the German auto-part manufacturer Ronal Canada Inc. Ronal had closed up shop several years before following a bitter strike, leaving the building vacant.
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 and his party, 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.”
The state of the green energy industry is likely much more complicated than any of the local politicians knows or is willing to admit.
In a Windsor Star article published on July 18, economic development officials in that community lamented the slow pace of approvals coming from the Ontario Power Authority and problems hooking up to Ontario’s outdated power grid.
In the same story, Patrick Persichilli, director of administration for CS Wind, is quoted as saying the industry is still facing significant issues and challenges.
Click HERE to read the Windsor Star article.
“There’s still a holding pattern on the manufacturing side until contracts are released, and the political climate on both sides of the border is still tenuous,” Persichilli told The Windsor Star.
“I think people are underestimating the potential impact of the U.S. elections on the industry, moving forward, and we still have a minority government in Ontario, so we’re not out of the woods here yet, either. The industry is not yet at the point where it can sit on inventory, and that’s a concern, particularly on the solar side.”
Persichilli also cited a recently launched Health Canada study into the health effects of wind turbines.
“To us, Health Canada is injecting itself into politics,” said Persichilli. “There’s enough empirical data from all jurisdictions across the world to indicate that a fan doesn’t cause cancer.”
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