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Sep 16

WIND TURBINE COMPANY PUTS FALL RIVER ON THE CUTTING EDGE OF INDUSTRY

The Herald News, Thursday, September 16, 2010 – Page B1

 

Gov. Deval Patrick welcomed turbine blade manufacturer TPI Composites Inc. to the state and the city Wednesday, saying, “We believe if we get this right the whole world can be our customer.”

 

The Arizona-based global company is converting a 69,000-square-foot masonry building at the Tillotson complex, adjacent to the waterfront, as a research and development and prototype manufacturing facility.

 

At the waterfront location owned by Borden & Remington on Water Street, TPI will lease space to initially test manufacture 10-ton, 50- to 60-meter wind blades, half the size of a football field.

 

They expect to produce 10 to 12 a year.

 

President and CEO Steve Lockard said starting early next year, the company plans to create 30 engineering, technical and manufacturing jobs. Possible expansion in a second phase could at least double production space, and expansion over time could lead to 300 manufacturing jobs, Lockard said at the well-attended announcement directed by Mayor Will Flanagan.

 

Flanagan called the startup and possible future expansion “a good sign for the city and the state.”

 

“I warmly, warmly welcome you,” Patrick said, while asserting the state’s need to improve building infrastructure for alternative energy.

 

The Fall River plant will be TPI’s center of development of advanced wind-blade technology, Lockard said. He likened the news to a homecoming because Tillotson Pearson built fiberglass sailboats at this sprawling complex in the late 1970s and early 1980s.

 

TPI was founded in 1968 in Warren, R.I., where 100 workers are building the turbine blade molds, Lockard said, saying the increasingly larger blades precipitated the need for the Fall River building.

 

The mostly cement building is 25 years old and 575 feet long, with ceilings as high as 34 feet.

 

The molds will still be built at the Rhode Island plant. Many workers from Fall River have been employed there, officials said.

 

Lockard said a production line of two to three blades could be set up at the retrofitted building with new gas lines.

 

By creating blades of this size – and up to 70 meters in the future – Lockard said the trios of wind blades could supply turbines with up to 2.5 megawatts of energy.

 

The one at Portsmouth Abbey, for example, supplies 1 megawatt.

 

The 29-acre Borden & Remington site, owned by Dan and Bob Bogan, contains a pier behind the building situated on the Taunton River.

 

Water access, said Kenneth Fiola Jr., the city’s Office of Economic Development head, “is extremely important. That was one of the key factors. It allows them to serve the entire eastern seaboard.”

 

Lockard concurred. With the text blades manufactured in Fall River, TPI would be a customer for the U.S. Department of Energy’s wind technology center in Charlestown. The blades could be sent by barge to that location and others, Lockard said.

 

“It’s a very important beginning,” U.S. Rep. Barney Frank said, dove-tailing goals for wind energy described by Patrick.

 

Frank promised support from government officials, including advocacy by himself and other congressmen for future loans by the Department of Energy for research and development projects on renewable energy.

 

The Massachusetts Clean Energy Center awarded a $250,000 grant to TPI based on its adding 15 state jobs the first year, 15 more the second and retaining them for three years. Lockard said TPI plans to hire well ahead of that schedule.

 

No city tax incentives are involved, according to Fiola and Flanagan.

 

Lockard described federal and state programs they need to regain momentum for wind energy projects that would spur their business, which has dropped 70 percent this year after promising prior years, he said.

 

He believes wind energy can account for 20 percent of the nation’s energy in 20 years if infrastructure, loan programs and related support are put in place to produce wind farms.

 

“This is a difficult economic time to invest in research and development,” Lockard said. He called the Bogans “outstanding partners” in this project.

 

According to Bob Bogan, Borden & Remington president, TPI has used the building for storage for over a year. He said their initial lease is for five years.

 

The company has a proposal to the city to demolish 150,000 square feet of buildings and remove several empty storage tanks behind this building toward the waterfront, Bob Bogan said. He said clearing that space would free up room for expansion of this project or for other developers.

 

TPI has 1 million square feet of manufacturing space in four locations with 2,500 employees, Lockard said. International locations include Mexico and China.