BRIGHTON -- A pouring rainstorm on Wednesday morning stole the thunder from a milestone in the American wind industry.
Gushing officials from Vestas Wind Systems braved the showers while visitors huddled beneath black umbrellas at the blade manufacturing facility trying to outlast the storm to show off the longest wind turbine blades ever produced in the United States.
Workers at the Brighton plant have been building three prototype blades of 57.5 meters -- 189 feet long -- since December, to test in Denmark. In comparison, for the last five years, Vestas' Colorado workers have been building 44-, 49-, and 55-meter blades from the company's Windsor and Brighton plants. The 55-meter blade is 9 feet shorter than the new prototype, which company officials hope will revive wind interest in the United States.
"We see it as an important blade for the U.S. market," Bjarne Nielsen, senior vice president of Vestas Blades, said Wednesday inside the blades manufacturing plant. "We're seeing great opportunities in the U.S., and that's also why we have come in with a new product."
The blades, each loaded onto an extra-long semi trailer, will be headed to Houston, Texas, today and be taken via ship to Denmark. The process will take weeks to get them to the testing sight, where a third party will verify the longer blade's production capabilities, before it goes out to a mass market.
The new blades, called the V117 (denoting the rotor width in meters) is specially made for slower or medium wind areas.
"We see that as an additionally important segment in the U.S. and throughout the world. Most turbines we put up are in high wind areas. And as they get occupied, you want to go into the lower-wind areas," Nielsen said. "The V117 is a dedicated product for low wind."
The company's Brighton facility is the only plant in their global network that has the capability, training and capacity to make the longer blades, said Andrew Longeteig, spokesman for the company. It's also a facility that already has the molds, or building blocks, to make the longer blades, given it is the company's newest manufacturing plant.
That means that as global markets seek out the specific blade, they'll be made in Colorado, and shipped internationally. The Brighton plant will build more of the blades later this year for a new wind-energy project in Denmark, according to a news release.
Susan Innis, senior manager for public affairs for the company, said many Colorado utilities are looking to get into more wind projects locally. Innis said Vestas has responded to several requests for proposals to try to secure that business.
So far this year, there have been no orders for projects in the United States.
Nielsen said Vestas is on the cutting edge of new technology, developing three new blades recently for low-wind markets. The latest prototype has come in its monster, the V164, considered the world's most powerful turbine with blades at 262 feet, developed for offshore markets.
While Vestas continues to develop the new blades, the company has continued in a cost-cutting mode, working to get its global workforce down to 16,000 by the end of the year, based on current expectations of a continued slump in the wind market.
Though about 600 people were let go from Vestas' four Colorado plants in the last two years, the state's workforce is at roughly 1,100 today, company officials stated.
Nielsen said further workforce cuts would be determined by the market.
We see it as an important blade for the U.S. Market. We're seeing great opportunities in the U.S., and that's also why we have come in with a new product.
-- Bjarne Nielsen, senior vice president of Vestas Blades ___