Company Plans to Make Wind Bladesby Pratik Joshi
The News Tribune, August 10, 2010
WALLA WALLA -- A startup company wants to make carbon fiber wind blades at the Port of Walla Walla.
New Wind Solutions is signing a lease with the port for a vacant building on Melrose Avenue. It will pay about $18,500 a month for the 90,000-square-foot building.
The plant should be operational on Oct. 1 or before, said company founder Mark Kean, who said he has hired about 20 employees for the project.
The company also is negotiating with the port to rebuild and use a building that once housed Gen-X biodiesel manufacturing plant at the Port of Walla Walla's Burbank industrial facility. That 18,000-square-foot building was damaged in a suspected arson fire more than a year ago.
Kean said he wants to use the Burbank facility to make filament-wound carbon fiber towers. His idea is to consolidate operations in Burbank at some point and to barge his turbines on the Columbia River to be sent abroad to foreign buyers. He said the entire project is estimated to cost $31 million.
The business could generate 60 to 80 green jobs in the next three to four months with the possibility of more in the future, said Jim Kuntz, executive director of the Port of Walla Walla.
The port is happy to be able to help a startup business with minimum risk to itself, Kuntz said. The port is not spending money on improvements to the Melrose building, which previously was occupied by Key Technology, because New Wind Solutions is taking the building "as is."
New Wind Solutions already has advance orders worth hundreds of millions of dollars for the company's uniquely designed vertical-axis wind turbines, said Kean, who is building a home in Richland. The original design was developed by Vancouver, Wash.-based Windwise Turbine.
Unlike the traditional three-blade wind turbine, Kean's turbine has 70-foot elongated S-shaped blades stacked side by side, and the mechanism allows the entire blade unit to move clockwise. The generator also is placed at the bottom of the tower and the total unit weighs about 23,000 tons.
Kean said it's an efficient design that works with low-speed winds. An acre of land can hold six of the units, but a two-acre parcel can have 14, Kean said.
Carbon fiber turbines are stronger and more durable than turbines made of glass fiber and other materials including steel, he said. Carbon fiber initially was developed for use by the aerospace industry.
Kean said he also wants to bring an international manufacturer to make carbon fiber in Burbank because of potential risk of a carbon fiber shortage. It's a key component of his plan that would help his company deliver on orders from foreign buyers and create hundreds of jobs in the area, Kean said.
Last year, Kean proposed and later scrapped a similar wind turbine blade plant in Dayton that was supposed to employ up to 600 workers. He later proposed two plants in Moses Lake to do the same thing.
"Dayton had infrastructure problems," he said. He also said he had problems with a former partner.
A project to make 15-foot rooftop versions of the wind turbine in Moses Lake for markets in China still is on, Kean said.
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