Wind power was all the thing in Arkansas last year, manufacturers announcing new wind power-related plants with startling frequency. But the boom has quieted, and may stay that way until the national economy improves, and Congress grants new financial incentives for the use of wind to generate electricity.
The Arkansas Economic Development Commission has made the recruitment of wind power plants a priority, and it lists four impressive successes in its “wind component manufacturing” file:
• LM Glasfiber opened a windmill blade manufacturing plant at Little Rock last year and said it would eventually invest $150 million in the plant and employ 1,000 people. “LM Glasfiber put us on the map,” says Joe Holmes, director of marketing and communications for the AEDC. The company is said to be the world's largest manufacturer of windmill blades.
• Polymarin Composites announced it would locate a $16 million blade plant at Little Rock that would eventually employ 630.
• Wind Water Technology said it would invest $4 million in a Little Rock plant to make nacelles, creating 200 jobs. A nacelle is the enclosed part of the wind turbine, housing the rotor, the generator and other mechanical parts.
• Nordex USA said it was about to begin work on a plant at Jonesboro that would make every turbine component except the towers. The plant would be a $100 million investment, Nordex said, and would employ 700 workers. (NOTE: The article said incorrectly originally, using state figures, that the investment would be $700 million.)
Before we put “The Windy State” on our license plates, let's note that only one of these plants — LM Glasfiber — is up and running, and lately it's been turning out almost as many announcements of layoffs and cutbacks as it has windmill blades. The others, also afflicted by economic downturn, are moving slowly, if at all, toward actual production, Expressions like “in mothballs” and “on hold” are bruited about, though Jonesboro still expects Nordex to begin construction sometime this summer.
Hardly had the new year begun before LM Glasfiber was laying off more than 150 of its Little Rock workers, saying that the national credit crisis was delaying, or canceling, the development of new “wind farms” that would need blades. That reduction left the Little Rock plant with 350 workers, LM Glasfiber said. In June, the company announced another “capacity adjustment,” this one requiring the dismissal of 80 more employees. Randy Fox, LM Glasfiber's vice president and general manager for North America, said at the time that “We are optimistic about an expected upswing in 2010 and 2011.” Fox has declined to share his optimism with the Times, however. A request for an interview, made through LM Glasfiber's Little Rock advertising agency, was not granted.