Wind turbine plant faces labour, market challenges
A fledgling Nova Scotia wind turbine factory says it's experiencing growing pains as it competes to establish itself in the wind energy market.
Officials with DSTN, a subsidiary of Daewoo Shipbuilding and Marine Engineering, appeared before a legislature committee on Tuesday.
The company officially took over operations at the former TrentonWorks railcar manufacturing plant last year.
"Everybody knows that we're having growing pains, no different than other tower plants that started up," said Brad Murray, a spokesman for DSTN.
"We're starting to see the daylight there."
Murray said the Trenton plant is continuing to face challenges finding and training welders on specialty equipment, and struggling to compete against salaries paid by oil projects in western Canada.
"Every company that has a boiler has to have a certified stationary engineer. They're getting paid close to $100 an hour out there," said Murray.
"Down here, not even close. That's what we're dealing with. And with the various other trades they're over double, sometimes triple what they're making here."
Murray said even experienced welders have had problems around the type of specialized arc welding required to make the circular tower units.
"Learning that technique has caused many problems," he told the committee.
"We had a lot of repairs we had to do and are still doing. Repairs are getting down but that just slowed the process."
Market access challenging
Gaining access to certain markets has also been a challenge, Murray said, adding the plant is all but shut out of the Quebec market, where rules stipulate 60 per cent local content for wind energy projects.
He told the committee that protectionism could hurt the competitiveness of the industry and that plant officials have lobbied federal bureaucrats about the problem.
"I told them that one of the things that is kind of shooting us in the foot is the opportunity in other parts of Canada," he said.
As a result, DSTN is focused on markets in Atlantic Canada and New England in the short term.
Despite the startup woes, officials said the plant is slowly ramping up capacity and is currently working on 15 towers for a wind farm project in Amherst.
It also shipped five towers on Tuesday to a project in Prince Edward Island.
The company told the committee it currently employs 164 people and plans to hire an additional six workers when it begins manufacturing wind tower blades in February.
"Once we're up to full production, we're anticipating 250 towers a year or equivalent to one a day," said Murray.
"So this is a process that I think was identified right at the start that it's going to take a couple of years, two to three years to get up and running."
With files from The Canadian Press