South Dakota rocked again as a wind turbine plant shuts its doors
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 of 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 300 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 fulfilled existing orders.
A family member of one of the workers said they were informed of the closure last Monday. Employees were 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 for revisions of the 2017 tax bill to be more favorable to the industry.
Thune, in an emailed statement, said 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, the president 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's recent ranking of global wind turbine manufacturers last year showed that seven 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.