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South Dakota rocked again as a wind turbine plant shuts its doors

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Leroy N. Soetoro

Jun 15, 2021, 4:18:32 PM6/15/21

John F. Kerry, the special presidential envoy for climate, said only
months ago that those losing fossil fuel jobs in coal and hydraulic
fracturing will find they have a better choice in jobs in either the solar
industry or as wind turbine technicians.

That was then. Now, a wind blade manufacturing plant located in Aberdeen,
South Dakota has announced it is shutting its doors permanently in less
than two months.

The disappearance of Molded Fiber Glass will displace over three hundred
workers and their families. It marks another major loss of energy jobs in
the state following President Joe Biden's halting of the Keystone Pipeline
on the first day of his administration.

MFG said in a news release that the closure will happen because of
changing market conditions, foreign competition, and proposed revisions to
tax policies affecting the wind energy industry in the United States.

Since 2007, the Aberdeen plant has been producing wind turbine blades. The
plant will remain in operation for the next two months until it has have
fulfilled existing orders.

A family member of one of the workers said they were informed of the
closure last Monday. Employees was completely taken off guard by the
announcement. She was also perplexed by it. “They should be swimming in
orders right now," she said.

In 2017 MFG threatened to kill 400 jobs at the plant and shut down because
of the “proposed revisions to tax policies.” At that time, Republican U.S.
Sen. John Thune stopped the closure by pushing revisions of the 2017 tax
bill to be more favorable to the industry.

Thune, in an emailed statement, said that it is troubling that at a time
when wind energy is seeing record investment that this growth is not
translating to American jobs. It’s especially hard for those working these
good-paying jobs in Aberdeen to face uncertainty yet again. Thune
criticized Biden's statement from his address to Congress — "There’s no
reason, Biden said, "the blades for wind turbines can’t be built in
Pittsburgh instead of Beijing.” But Beijing is getting all the business.

Bloomberg New Energy Finance recent ranking of global wind turbine
manufacturers last year showed that 7 of the top 10 wind turbine
manufacturers are Chinese companies. General Electric, an American
company, is first, but Goldwind of China is in second place. The study
also found more than half of the world’s newly installed wind power
capacity was built in China in 2020.

Last month, Thune proposed an amendment to the Democrats’ expansive energy
tax credit bill, requiring the administration to certify that U.S.
manufacturers would not be undercut by foreign suppliers using low-cost
labor and creating higher emissions. MFG, in closing its 14-year-old
plant, cited precisely these two adverse factors as its reasons.

One day after the announcement, TC Energy, the Canadian pipeline company
that sought to build the Keystone XL pipeline, announced that it was
terminating the project, a 1,700-mile pipeline intended to carry 800,000
barrels of oil a day from Alberta to the Gulf Coast, passing through five
states, including South Dakota.

Although the wind and pipeline industries are different sides of the
climate change coin, both were considered economic lifelines to small-town
South Dakota. Both promised economic stability and a revenue stream that
would keep many towns hopping until tourism hit its stride once again.

“We are a smallish community of 28,000 people, so 300 jobs is a big deal,”
said the family member of a worker. “Granted, two facilities in town, 3M
and Banner Engineering, have recently doubled capacity, so most of the
hourly employees should be absorbed by that,” she said. "However, some of
these people have been with the company since 2008. How do you start over
after 13 years?”

It is a question that has been asked by many Americans in manufacturing
jobs, who have had to compete with cheaper overseas products for
generations. And it is a question many workers in the energy industry may
be asking soon.

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