To celebrate the inaugural American-made commercial wind turbines coming off the production floor this year, Aeronautica Windpower, Plymouth, Mass.,has decided to buck the trend of plain white towers and show off the stars and stripes instead. “The symbolism goes deeper than a paint job,” says Aeronautica’s VP of Sales and Marketing Shaun Lockett. “Most people don’t know it, but other than some smaller machines, many wind turbines going up around the U.S. are made overseas. So instead of sending our petro-dollars overseas, we end up sending them our cash, tax credits, and our jobs. We want to reverse that trend and build high-quality turbines in America.” The company will initiate product of 225 and 750-kW models.
The company says that over an expected lifetime of 25+ years, each of the 750-kW turbines will save the amount of foreign oil equivalent to that contained in a line of trucks over a mile long. The “Made in America” approach will also mean replacement parts will be readily available from Aeronautica’s New Hampshire based plant, eliminating the cost and long lead time of ordering parts from outside the US.
Can the U.S. really compete with lower priced labor and component prices from Asia, which is where most turbine manufacturing now takes place? “What we pay in increased labor costs is easily recovered through savings of not transporting these large blades and towers over the ocean,” says Aeronautica’s VP of Operations Tim Stearns. “Shipping can add over 12% to a turbine’s cost. As far as component costs, quality components will always cost more, but in the long run, it’s value we are looking for. The quality components we use last longer, giving customers a better value,” says Stearns.
Many of the company’s machines will find homes in community-wind projects – those in which a community benefits from the renewable energy and the turbine is a source of pride. Aeronautica’s “mid-scale” commercial and industrial turbines are large enough to produce power economically, yet small enough to station directly on the sites of many factories, school campuses, shopping centers, and other properties that could generate their own power with the right winds. “These sites don’t need the strongest winds like a large wind farm does, because they are displacing power at the highest retail prices,” says Brian Kuhn, VP of product development and a Founder of Aeronautica.
“In a country that basically invented the wind farm in California in the 1980s, it is ironic that turbine manufacturing is just now reopening in the U.S.,” Kuhn says. “For the past 20 years, most manufacturers did not want to locate a plant in the US or concentrate on the US market because wind economics were uncertain and hampered by up-and-down tax incentives. Interest in wind energy is now surging as fossil fuel prices continue to rise, environmental concerns deepen, and states continue to improve regulations such as net metering and feed-in tariffs that help renewable energy,” he adds.
In 2009, during one of the worst recessions in recent history, over 10,000 MW of wind power were installed in the US. This represented over 32% of the total new generation facilities built in the nation, according to the American Wind Energy Association – the equivalent of more than 15 nuclear reactors.
The company will offer its two models through local dealers and installers. “There is strong interest in wind power from the commercial and industrial sectors,” reports Aeronautica President Walt Wunder. “People have seen wind power working in the large wind farms, and now they want to know what it can do for them locally.”
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