Vestas is only about halfway through its hiring in Colorado amid big plans to start building some of its latest technology.
Pushed by orders of almost 900 turbines in 2013, Vestas already has filled 400 positions at its factories in Windsor, Brighton and Pueblo, with expectations of 450 more to be hired through the year to build additional models of turbines that are expected to help drive down the cost of wind energy.
At its impending peak this year, the company will churn out blades, nacelles and towers nonstop, said Chris Brown, president of Vestas’ sales and service division in the United States and Canada.
“What you’re going to see is a 24/7, 365 manufacturing operation in terms of our peak,” Brown said in an interview. “We’re running new shifts now and introducing new products, like the V110.
“When it gets to its peak, you’ll see a lot of rail (cars) with Vestas on it,” Brown said.
Vestas’ Windsor plant produced its first V110 blade Monday, which is a new, longer blade with 14 percent more power than the V100 blade, one of the Windsor plant’s original blades. The company received its first V110 U.S. order in December to build 75 turbines for a wind project in Texas.
That and other, larger models are expected to help bring down energy costs, and potentially take the Production Tax Credit out of the Vestas economics equation.
Orders ramped up throughout 2013 because Congress extended the PTC, which gives wind electricity producers a 2.2-cent credit per kilowatt hour of electricity a wind farm produces for 10 years. The credit was extended at the end of 2012 to projects at least started in 2013 and produced through 2015. So far, Congress has not extended the credit any further, potentially threatening future Vestas projects if the costs to produce them don’t come down.
Brown said the PTC has been an important tool to help the industry compete with cheaper energy. It’s also been a massive boost to the economy, he said.
“Some people are against the PTC but, the fact of the matter is, it stimulates jobs,” Brown said, adding that the company recognizes that credit may not last forever.
“We’re trying to chase the cost of energy down. When you talk with utility executives, wind is the most economic now. We’ve taken costs out of the machine and increased productivity so the power curves are much better and reliability is improved,” Brown said.
Creating turbines that are more efficient that can capture more wind is a prime focus of Vestas, Brown said.
“Once you increase the capture size and productivity, then you’re really decreasing the cost of energy,” Brown said.
That’s helped the company forge ahead on potential new projects beyond 2015, but Brown said the company wouldn’t make any announcements until the end of this year. Based on orders received so far, the company has the potential to add 2.6 gigawatts of turbine sales throughout North America, as well as exporting to Mexico, Brazil and Uruguay, according to a news release.
Meanwhile, the task of getting another 450 people through the doors to create the company’s 24/7 industrial revolution remains top of mind.
Vestas officials are hiring employees as fast as they can to ramp up their production, but their screening process has bottlenecked the system somewhat.
The company has vetted 3,200 applications for production jobs so far, and they may be a bit under water, Brown said. The positions are considered temporary, giving employees a chance to prove themselves worthy of permanent status. They’re looking for employees who have previous experience working with their hands, with power tools, and previous manufacturing experience, as well as pass drug, background and physical screenings.
“We’re trying to pick the best employees,” Brown said. “If someone is busting their butt and doing a good job, most likely they’ll be permanent. We want to make sure the folks we have are here for the long term. … We’re trying to make sure our brand is strong enough that people want to be in the renewable energy sector and build on that.”
The goal is to get Vestas’ Colorado employment to 2,000, the largest workforce for the company since it began in Colorado six years ago.
The Windsor blade factory, Brighton nacelle factory and Pueblo tower factory are more focused on adding workers now through the second quarter, whereas the Brighton blade factory plans to add the majority of new workers in the second half of 2014, according to company spokesman Andrew Longeteig.
The company suffered in the downturn and cut more than 500 workers from its payrolls in Weld County through 2012 and early 2013. Vestas reports it’s now on the upswing with no debt, and finally becoming profitable.