By John Miner
TILLSONBURG — There’s no shortage of spin after a poster child for Ontario’s wind farm strategy has fallen on its face.
Once heralded by the Ontario government as proof its plan was working to turn the province into a global clean energy leader, the Tillsonburg wind turbine blade plant will shut down by early 2018.
“All I can say is good riddance,” said independent energy consultant Tom Adams.
Adams said the plant only existed because of large subsidies from the Ontario government. He predicted other manufacturing operations set up under Ontario’s green energy program will disappear as well.
“They’re toast. We will be paying for this for a long time.”
Gone with the Tillsonburg plant will be 340 jobs that were part of Ontario’s bid to jumpstart a green energy industry by cutting a $7-billion deal with South Korean Samsung.
Ontario had agreed to buy electricity produced by Samsung for 20 years at rates substantially higher than customers were being charged at the time.
Samsung committed to building plants for wind and solar components in Tillsonburg (pop. 16,000), Toronto, Windsor in London with jobs guaranteed until 2016.
For the turbine blade plant, Samsung turned to Siemens to build the Tillsonburg operation.
Just last year, Siemens described the Tillsonburg facility as a key part of its global supply chain.
In announcing the shutdown in July, David Hickey, head of Siemens Gamesa in Canada, called it a very difficult decision that was only made after assessing all options.
“We have a great team of employees at the plant who have produced quality work for the last six years, and we sincerely appreciate their efforts. However, the harsh reality is that, in order to remain competitive, we must constantly evaluate our global manufacturing footprint,” Hickey said in a statement.
Siemens cited changes in global and regional markets and physical limitations at the Tillsonburg plant for the closure. Prices for turbine blades have fallen 66 per cent in the last seven years, the company said.
In addition, the current market requires significantly larger blades and the Tillsonburg factory, a former autoparts manufacturing facility, cannot be easily adapted, the company said.
Adding to the pressure, the market in Eastern Canada has experienced a significant reduction in demand for turbine blades and the U.S. export market has been delayed due to uncertainty about U.S. tax policy.
Jane Wilson, president of Wind Concerns Ontario, a coalition of groups opposed to wind farm development, said the demise of the Siemens plant is yet another symptom of Ontario’s green energy program that was pushed through without any cost-benefit or impact analysis.
“The company was here for the subsidies offered, not for the long-term future of Ontario, and certainly not for the environment,” Wilson said.
While it’s too late to correct the damage in Tillsonburg, Wilson said, the government needs to do everything it can now to stop further damage to Ontario’s economy. The five wind farms awaiting Renewable Energy Approval should not be allowed to go ahead, she said. “The power is not needed and millions in costs will be added to the financial burden Ontario is already carrying.”
The Green Energy Act, introduced by the province in 2009, with its exorbitant subsidies for wind turbine power, has pushed up electricity rates by 71 per cent.
To provide price relief, the province will charge Ontarians an additional $21 billion that will have to be paid back in the future.
Brandy Giannetta, Ontario regional director for the Canadian Wind Energy Association, said that while the job losses are horrific, the Tillsonburg situation is really an indication that the industry is evolving quickly and “is getting bigger and better if anything.”