The Molded Fiber Glass plant in Aberdeen will transition to making a new larger wind turbine blade, which will likely allow the company to add employees in the coming year, said Dave Giovannini, senior vice president.
"If all goes well, we will be bringing people back in April or May," he said.
Molded Fiber Glass had to lay off 92 workers in September because of a reduction in orders related to uncertainty about the Production Tax Credit. The company was able to call back 15 workers in October, but has not had a call-back since then.
"These new blades are a good opportunity for our team," he said.
There are about 293 employees at the Aberdeen plant.
The molds for the 48.7-meter blades are currently on a ship traveling from Brazil to the port of Houston. They are expected to arrive in Aberdeen sometime before Feb. 1, Giovannini said.
"We have already begun preparing for their arrival," he said.
The Aberdeen plant will be the first Molded Fiber Glass plant to make the larger blades.
It will take about five months to change production to the larger blades and thoroughly test them. During that time, the plant will continue to produce the 40-meter blades. Once the bigger blades are in full production, the smaller blades will be phased out, Giovannini said.
The venture is being capitalized by General Electric, the main customer for the blades, and Molded Fiber Glass. GE owns the molds, and Molded Fiber Glass is investing in equipment and electrical system changes, he said.
The passage of a one-year extension of the Production Tax Credit, while it is not related specifically to the bigger blades, has provided a boost to the wind energy industry, Giovannini said.
The extension was part of the fiscal cliff compromise passed by Congress on Jan. 2. The tax credit provides a 2.1-cent-per-kilowatt-hour benefit for the first 10 years of a renewable energy facility's operation.
In lieu of the per-kilowatt-hour credit, a wind farm developer can get 30 percent of a building project paid for through a federal grant.
"An important aspect of the extension was a change in the language," Giovannini said. "It used to say wind farms had to be completed before the credit expires on the first of the year. If a wind facility was not in operation, it didn't get the credit. Now it states that if a project has been started before Jan. 1, it qualifies."
While the wind industry had hoped for a longer extension, the one-year extension has had a positive effect on the industry, he said.
The delay in extending the tax credit caused a reduction in orders for the first half of 2013, but the timing has not necessarily been bad for the Aberdeen plant, Giovannini said.
"We were going to have a slow down anyway because of the conversion to the new larger blades," he said. "It is going to require a significant amount of training of our employees and it is going to take a lot of effort just to bring the new blades into production. It is similar to when an auto plant has to retool when it starts making a new model."
The passage of the Production Tax Credit, however, could help business in the second half of 2013 and in 2014, he said.
Molded Fiber Glass has a policy for recalling laid-off workers, which it will use if business picks up as expected.
"We realize many people have already found other employment, but they will have an opportunity to come back with us or stay at their new job," Giovannini said. "Right now, it is a tight labor market because Aberdeen businesses are doing well. But that is a good problem to have. We are cautiously optimistic that 2013 is going to be a good year for us."