Wind Industry Creates Jobs in Georgia, But Not All Is Peachy Keen

Attendees of the Georgia Wind Industry Tour had the opportunity to tour ZF Wind Power in Gainesville, Georgia.

With significant business incentives, the state of Georgia has long been an attractive location for manufacturing companies to set up shop.  The wind energy industry is no exception. The Peach State is currently home to over 20 wind energy component manufacturing facilities serving the domestic and international wind industry markets. In 2013, there were between 101-500 direct and indirect jobs provided by the wind industry in Georgia. In addition, the Port of Savannah’s Ocean Terminal is an important transportation hub for wind energy equipment.

On Monday, April 14, Public Service Commissioner Tim Echols hosted a Georgia Wind Industry Tour in Gainesville, Georgia. Sponsored by the Georgia Sierra Club, GreenLaw, and the American Wind Energy Association, attendees, including PSC Commission Chairman Chuck Eaton and Commissioner Bubba McDonald, had the opportunity to hear directly from three German-based manufacturing companies and tour a local wind facility.

Hailo USA, located in Elberton, Georgia, one of the leading producers of safety equipment and mechanical tower components for the industry, discussed their company’s work building tower components including ladders, service lifts, platforms, guardrails, and brackets. Bart Smith, Hailo’s Safety Manager, previously manufactured conveyor  belt systems for coal-fired power plants. Yet, when employees were let go and he lost his job, he turned to the wind industry. Bart spoke on Monday about the benefits the facility has provided for local Georgians. With all Hailo employees living within five counties of Elbert County, Bart said the facility has been a “huge boost to the economy in our area” and he looks forward to watching the facility continue to grow. While starting with just 15 employees in 2011, Hailo currently has 64 on the floor, producing 15-25 towers (or system kit suppliers) a week.

The event also featured Carl Vanhoutte, General Manager of Goracon Windpower Access Systems, located in Lawrenceville, Georgia. Goracon manufactures climb, lift, and platform systems for wind turbines. The company provides a wide range of windpower access systems including wire rope, service lifts, ladder climbers, maintenance platforms, and blade lifts.

Next, attendees had the opportunity to see wind energy manufacturing in action, touring ZF Wind Power. ZF Group opened a branch in Gainesville, GA in 2011 and currently employees over 100 people. ZF Wind Power is part of a globally established designer, manufacturer, and supplier of gearboxes for wind turbines. During the tour of the facility, attendees were able to see the Atlas gearbox assembly system: 55 overhead cranes move the gearbox down the assembly line as workers continue to add components. The final product weighs a total of 16 tons! When completed, the gearboxes are shipped to Vestas in Colorado where they are placed inside a 2 megawatt turbine. ZF Wind Power currently has more than 20,000 gearboxes installed globally (over 40,000 megawatts).

While the facility in Gainesville alone has the capacity to produce 1,000 gearboxes a year, they have had their share of growing pains. Shortly after the facility was built and began production, the federal production tax credit (PTC) lapsed because of congressional inaction. During this policy instability, fewer than 100 gearboxes were assembled that year. ZF Gainesville was also forced to ship some of their high level equipment to other international facilities where the wind industries are more stable and productive. There continues to be idle space in the facility. Luckily, the Gainesville facility has the potential for 103% growth. If the PTC is extended, ZF Wind Power, and many other wind facilities in the state, has the opportunity to put many Georgians back to work.

With the Southern region now ripe for large-scale wind energy development and Georgia’s manufacturing sector continuing to grow, we hope to see an increase in wind energy  jobs in the state. However, stable wind energy policies, such as the Production Tax Credit (PTC), are crucial to support the wind industry growth in Georgia. A PTC extension would provide a more secure future for wind facilities in Georgia and help increase the utilization of wind energy here in the Southeast.

Contact your elected officials today and tell them to put Americans back to work – support wind energy! 

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