Pocatello Wind Turbine Manufacturer Eager to Get Started
Pocatello, ID: Jeff Brown describes the nacelle as the heart of a wind turbine.
It’s mounted horizontally atop a 200-foot tower, it supports the blades, and it contains all of the delicate and complex equipment used to generate power.
In late May, the community’s new Nordic Windpower plant will start assembling and testing the first three of these turbine “hearts,” valued at more than $1 million each. The towers and blades will be manufactured and assembled elsewhere.
Brown, chief operations officer of Nordic Windpower, said the initial order will be shipped to a customer in Uruguay in July. The company, headquartered in Berkeley, Calif., announced its plans to locate here in April 2008 and moved in November into a warehouse within the city’s old Naval Ordnance Plant on Pole Line Road.
Managers will build the first three nacelles in order to learn the procedures to follow for the future. Though just five Nordic workers are now stationed in Pocatello, Brown hopes to have between 40 and 60 employees here by next year and more than 100 local workers by 2011. Brown said he intends to staff one worker for every nacelle the facility produces each year, and his eventual goal is to reach an annual production of 150 nacelles.
This year alone, he plans to build 10 of them, and even in a tight economy, there’s been no shortage of demand.
“We think in the next month we’ll be booked up until this time next year,” Brown said. “It’s clearly a growth industry.”
Once assembled, each fiberglass nacelle casing and its contents — a rotor, gearbox, generator, yaw motor, anemometer, mechanical brake, main shaft, yaw bearing, radiator, controller, wind vane and small shaft — will weigh 49 tons.
“This whole thing has a weather station on the back of it that hunts the wind. It actively moves to the wind,” Brown said Tuesday, standing by an empty nacelle shell in an open and expansive warehouse that will soon be bustling with activity.
The nacelles will be designed for 1-megawatt turbines.
Brown expects about two-thirds of his sales will be made in the U.S., mostly in the Midwest. His company will target the community wind industry — cities, schools, colleges, public works commissions and others interested in producing their own power to cut out the middleman.
Brown said his company chose to locate in Pocatello due in part to the city’s central location between the Midwest and the West Coast, where he expects to find a good number of his buyers, and due to its superb highway access. He also said the facility is unique in its lifting capacity with two 35-ton cranes and two 15-ton cranes.
Another benefit of the facility is that Nordic will be next door to two of its major parts suppliers, Petersen, Inc., and General Products Machine Shop. Nordic will buy about half of its parts locally. Brown estimates each nacelle will contain about $100,000 worth of locally-made parts.
When Nordic chose to locate here, Brown said his company made a commitment to do as much business as possible within the community. He’s noticed the community has returned that good will.
“Every place we go to, everybody is interested in what we’re doing. One place said, ‘You’re the wind guy!’ They’ve heard we’re coming, and they’ve opened their doors wide for us,” Brown said. “People are interested in Nordic Windpower not only because of the jobs, but also because wind turbines provide the U.S. with a degree of energy independence.”
Nordic has also wasted no time in forging relationships with the city and Idaho State University. City officials have inquired about doing business with Nordic for 20 planned wind turbines, and Brown said he’s interested in partnering with ISU for work force training.
“We’d like to do something with them where we would provide the content and they would provide the classrooms and staff,” Brown said.
Nordic’s wind turbines will have just two blades, which will enable the company to produce lighter equipment at a considerable savings. He explained the blades will spin faster in order to make the same amount of power as turbines with three blades. The turbines are designed so that the blades will start rotating when wind speed reaches 4 meters per second and will cut off if it exceeds 22 meters per second.
Brown said Nordic’s design was developed through an $85 million investment by the Swedish government, and his company has purchased the intellectual property. He also noted Nordic turbines, which he likened to Volvos due to their sturdiness, require little maintenance compared with the competition.
Some windmills with comparable technology have been in operation for a dozen years with almost no maintenance, Brown said.
DOUG LINDLEY/IDAHO STATE JOURNAL Jeff Brown of Nordic Windpower shows the gearbox, or nacelle, for a wind turbine. The part is assembled at the new plant at Gateway West Industrial Park.