US Wind Tower Maker Roaring Back

After a tough period when Chinese and Vietnamese companies dumped cheap products into the county and the production tax credit looked like it might be toast, things are looking up for the U.S. wind tower sector.

One indication: Broadwind Energy said on Tuesday that a new $14 million order means that its Abeline, Texas, plant is pretty much full up for the year.

broadwind energy wind towers

image via Broadwind Energy

“Since the final months of 2012, we have announced $127 million in tower orders and we are now pleased to report that our Abilene, Texas, plant is near capacity for 2013,” Peter C. Duprey, president and CEO of Broadwind Energy, said in a statement.

Even though 2012 was a record-breaker for U.S. wind installations, tower manufacturers were in a bad way for much of the year. Developers were rushing to complete projects before the scheduled expiration of the PTC, in order to qualify for the tax break, but weren’t placing any new orders. So we saw stories like the one in September, in which Katana Summit, which employed 214 people in Columbus, Neb., and 79 in Ephrata, Wash., said it was seeking a buyer, and if one didn’t pop up, it would shut down operations.

Well, in November, Valmont Industries announced it had bought the Nebraska manufacturing assets of the company, which it said it would use to make steel transmission structures for the utility industry.

Katana Summit was among the four U.S. tower companies — as was Broadwind Energy — that brought a trade case against Chinese and Vietnamese manufacturers, alleging imports to the U.S. were being dumped and subsidized ufairly. On Jan. 18 this year, the U.S International Trade Commission voted 3-2 to move ahead with the stiff duties on Chinese and Vietnamese wind towers.

Meanwhile, with the PTC extended to cover projects that are under construction before the end of this year, orders are clearly picking up.

“We’ve seen a significant improvement in activity and we are quoting orders for 2014 delivery as the wind energy industry recovers from the downturn at the end of 2012,” Duprey said.

Broadwind didn’t say who placed the $14 million order, which came about three weeks after it announced a $35 million order that would be filled at its Manitowoc, Wisconsin facility.

Pete Danko is a writer and editor based in Portland, Oregon. His work has appeared in Breaking Energy, National Geographic's Energy Blog, The New York Times, San Francisco Chronicle and elsewhere.