An Iowa wind turbine blade maker is closing in December, eliminating more than 700 jobs, at the same time the federal government is announcing plans to heavily invest in new off-shore wind farms.
Iowa Senator Chuck Grassley says he’ll make the case to President Biden to consider manufacturing those blades for the massive new project at TPI Composites in Newton. “It’s hurting those families so we’re going to encourage the Biden Administration to build those in Iowa if the government’s got anything to do with it,” Grassley says, “because we’re the home of wind energy.”
The administration announced a plan last week to build large-scale wind farms all along the East and West Coasts and in the Gulf of Mexico. Grassley says he’ll act as a sort of emissary to the White House on Newton’s behalf. “I would sure be glad to do that for any business that’s connected with wind energy,” Grassley says. “As the father of the Wind Energy Tax Credit, I want to keep it going.”
TPI is Jasper County’s largest employer and General Electric is TPI’s largest customer. GE bought a Denmark-based wind turbine blade maker in 2017 and plans to get most of its blades from that company, a rival of TPI. The Newton company says it has no orders from GE for 2022 and thus, will shut down by December 31st. Grassley also vows to approach the leaders of GE, saying “it’s the least I can do,” to get that business shifted back to the Iowa.
“It can’t be because wages are cheaper in Denmark than they are in the United States because I think Europe is pretty competitive with the United States so I don’t know what the reason is,” Grassley says. “The only thing I can do is contact GE since that’s where the contract is, as far as I know.”
Appliance giant Maytag once employed 3,000 people in Newton but closed its factories and headquarters there in 2007. It was a “big boost” for the community, Grassley says, when TPI moved in, even taking over some of Maytag’s old buildings. “The loss of jobs in Newton, just like when Maytag closed down, is of great concern to me because those working families are going to be unemployed now,” Grassley says. “I bet some of them are probably people that used to be Maytag workers.”
One potential wrinkle, Grassley says those off-shore wind turbines are typically larger than even the massive blades that are used for land-based turbines, so it’s possible TPI would have to reconfigure its manufacturing process to accommodate orders for the new project. The U.S. Secretary of the Interior says the agency plans to start leasing federal waters to wind power developers by 2025 all along most of the nation’s coastlines — from Maine to the Carolinas, in the Gulf of Mexico, and off the coasts of California and Oregon.