Wales is primed to become the setting for the UK’s biggest wind turbine tower factory.
According to NewEnergyFocus.com, the online daily news service covering renewable energy and low carbon issues in the United Kingdom, engineering company Mabey Bridge has unveiled plans to build a £38 million wind turbine tower factory at Chepstow in South Wales, in a move which it claimed will make it the UK's biggest manufacturer of towers for both on and offshore wind projects.
Mabey Bridge already has its UK headquarters in Chepstow and has submitted a planning application to extend a warehouse which would be home to the factory, and, if this is successful, it hopes to have the site up-and-running in late 2010.
“When completed, the facility would be capable of fabricating tower sections up to five metres in diameter and 40 metres in length, using techniques including computer-controlled cutting and rolling, robotic welding and an automated painting facility,” NewEnergyFocus.com reported. “And, Mabey Bridge claimed that it had relationships in place with major turbine manufacturers which meant that the facility would be running at its full capacity of 300 towers a year in a relatively short time.”
The company would not name the manufacturers it is working with, but has said that it is "developing a relationship" with onshore wind developer Nuon Renewables, which has 12 projects currently in development.
According to Mabey Bridge’s managing director, Peter Lloyd, the company is forecasting that production at the facility will provide around half the UK's requirement for wind turbine towers, greatly reducing the need for developers to import.
Lloyd also claimed the factory would boost both the local and national economy, as well creating jobs in the region - 240 will be employed at the site - and in the renewable energy sector UK-wide.
"The investment goes against the grain of the decline in the manufacturing sector in the UK and will put South Wales at the heart of the move towards a low carbon economy,” Lloyd said.
Mabey Bridge does not currently fabricate turbine towers in the UK, and is best known for manufacturing steel bridges, car parks and other heavy steelwork, with its existing factories in Chepstow and Lydney, in Gloucestershire, offering a combined annual production capacity of 65,000.
However, it has already spent £13 million on the site of the proposed factory, which comprises what it claimed was Wales largest speculative industrial unit, and 18 acres of land.
Mabey Bridge's move into the turbine tower manufacturing market comes just days after its rival Skykon revealed its plans to invest £14 million in its Welcon Towers factory in Argyll, to allow it to begin producing offshore, as well as onshore, turbine towers there.
News of Mabey Bridge's expansion was welcomed by senior Labour and Conservative politicians in Wales.
According to the Secretary of State for Wales, Peter Hain, the plans were "great news" for the local economy, and they showed that there were signs of growth in Welsh manufacturing.
"With the green, low carbon economy growing all the time, it is vital that we attract and keep companies such as Mabey Bridge in Wales," Hain added.
Hain’s sentiments were echoed by Cheryl Gillan, Conservative Shadow Secretary of State for Wales, who welcomed the jobs the factory would create, and claimed: "The Conservatives have been extremely supportive of industries that look into harvesting wind energy."
The British Wind Energy Association's (BWEA) chief executive, Maria McCaffery, welcomed the announcement.
"We are beginning to see the return of turbine manufacturing in the UK, making the low carbon economy a reality and bringing much needed jobs to local communities,” McCaffery said.
However, the BWEA warned that to capitalize on the development, the planning process for onshore wind farms needed to be sped up, citing figures which showed that developers had to wait an average of 21 months for decisions on their planning applications.
Mabey Bridge expects a decision to be made on its planning application this spring.
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