Wind turbine plant brings 900 jobs to Ontario town

A small southern Ontario town hard-hit by contraction in Ontario’s manufacturing industry is on track to get hundreds of jobs next year when a new wind turbine blade factory sets up shop.

A small southern Ontario town hard-hit by contraction in Ontario’s manufacturing industry is on track to get hundreds of jobs next year when a new wind turbine blade factory sets up shop.

The new factory that could create up to 900 jobs in the Tillsonburg area, the province and manufacturer said Thursday.

German manufacturer Siemens says the plant will create 300 direct jobs and up to 600 more in related work like construction.

The factory, which used to belong to car parts maker Magna International, will make blades for many of the wind turbines that will eventually help supply 600 megawatts of renewable energy to the province.

But the Canadian Auto Workers union says it is angry that the blade plant will be in Tillsonburg instead of Siemens’ existing factory in Hamilton, Ont., where 550 people will lose their jobs when that plant closes, likely in July.

The union said the Hamilton plant could be retooled for the blade work and accused the government of failing to preserve existing jobs while promoting the Tillsonburg factory as creating new ones.

Siemens says it chose Tillsonburg because it has access to major highways and wide roads to transport the blades, which can measure up to 53 metres long.

The town, 170 kilometres southwest of Toronto, is also closer than Hamilton to a wind farm in Lakeshore, Ont., near Windsor.

Renovations to the Tillsonburg factory, which has been vacant for the last two years, will begin later this month, and production is expected to be up and running next October.

Tillsonburg saw almost 500 workers handed pink slips last year at the DDM Plastics plant.

The new Siemens plant will be Ontario’s first wind blade manufacturing facility, and is part of a $7-billion green energy deal between Korean giant Samsung and its partners, including Siemens.

But wind turbine projects have failed run into opposition in Ontario, as some communities debate possible health effects and the sight of large towers in their backyards.

Robert Hornung, president of the Canadian Wind Energy Association, says demand for wind energy is stabilizing as more governments in Canada and the U.S. sign contracts. He says this will draw more companies into the wind power business.

“There are already 5,000 megawatts of contracts (in Canada) that have been signed for new projects to be built in the next three, four years. So that sort of certainty is providing confidence to investors to come forward and to make those investments and that’s the difference between today and three or four or five years ago,” said Hornung.

Provincial Energy Minister Brad Duguid has admitted that electricity bills will double over 20 years under Ontario’s $87-billion plan to modernize the electricity system, which includes wind energy projects.

Duguid said that even though green energy will cost more, people he has spoken with believe it will be worth it in the long run.

“I haven’t met a father or a mother, or a grandparent yet that doesn’t think the health of their children is worth fighting for,” he said.

Siemens Canada has an agreement with the province to supply 600 megawatts of wind turbines to Samsung and development partner Pattern Energy.

The province says 600 MW would could power more than 160,000 homes each year.

On Wednesday, the Ontario government said a new wind tower manufacturing plant would bring as many as 700 jobs to Windsor, Ont..

That plant will create 300 full-time jobs and up to 400 indirect jobs in the city, which was also hit hard by the recession.

The yet-to-be-built wind tower plant is set to be operational by next fall.

The province has billed that project as part of its “clean energy plan” to move Ontario toward cleaner energy sources such as wind, solar and bio-energy, rather than coal.

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