Wind power boosts business at Duluth port

The BBC Amazon
The BBC Amazon, flagged in Antigua and Barbuda, hauls a load of wind turbine blades. The wind blades are manufactured by LM Glasfiber, in Grand Forks, ND. The Danish company is the world's largest wind generator manufacturer.
MPR Photo/Bob Kelleher

The arrival of the ocean going ship BBC Amazon Monday has provided work for some Duluth port workers who've otherwise seen a slow season. Several taconite ships are idled in the port, at dock since late last fall.

The ship was loaded with wind generator blades built in North Dakota and destined for Chile. Port Business Development Director Ron Johnson said the shipment will bring some income to the area.

"It puts a lot of crew, both the longshoremen, and the crane operators -- there's the inspectors -- it's very good for the economy," he said.

However, the industry has been struggling, with wind projects delayed or canceled for lack of financing.

"We've been shipping outbound blades now for three years -- started in 2007 with five ships to Spain; one ship last year to Brazil; and then this ship is going to Chile," Johnson said. "We hope to see some more of it. We're hoping for a rebound here towards this fall." The blades' manufacturer, LM Glasfiber, just announced layoffs at one of its plants in Arkansas and another manufacturer, Suzlon Energy, said it will lay off half the workforce at its Pipestone, Minn., turbine blade plant.

Johnson said wind generation has become a promising industry for Duluth shipping, but still faces challenges as wind projects worldwide are having a tough time with financing.

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