Vestas brings winds of change to Victoria manufacturing, with turbine plant in Geelong

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Victoria’s former centre for car manufacturing, Geelong, will host a turbine assembly and testing hub for global wind giant Vestas.

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Victoria’s former centre for car manufacturing, Geelong, is set to become an Australian base for global wind energy giant Vestas, after the Danish company inked a deal for a new turbine assembling facility in the south-western port city.

Vestas, which is the world’s leading wind turbine manufacturer, said on Thursday that it had entered a partnership with Geelong-based Marand Precision Engineering, to establish a turbine assembly and testing centre at a former Ford Motor factory.

The new facility will form part of a Vestas Renewable Energy Hub, the company said: “a multi-disciplinary industry development initiative designed to support the Victorian Renewable Energy Target and Victoria’s New Energy Technologies strategy.”

Initially, the plant will be used to assemble drivetrains and hubs – and test other components – destined for the Dundonnell and Berrybank Wind Farm projects, two projects supported in their development via the state government’s reverse auction scheme.

Premier Daniel Andrews said the development of the hub would also help Dundonnell and Berrybank deliver on their local content commitments, as part of the state government’s Victorian Industry Participation Policy.

Locally, the deal is expected to deliver investment of around $3.5 million and directly employ more than 20 people. It will also train “hundreds” of local staff in wind turbine maintenance and bring wind turbine component assembly to Australia for the first time in more than 10 years.

Indeed, the closest Australia has come to wind turbine manufacturing of late has been through Victoria-based company Keppel Prince, which makes wind turbine towers. And that company barely hung in there through the lean, anti-renewable years of the former Abbott federal government.

But Vestas hasn’t been the only company to see potential for manufacturing and assembly of wind turbine components on Australian soil.

In 2016, the founder, chairman and managing director of India’s Suzlon Energy, Tulsi Tanti, told RenewEconomy that making large-scale wind turbines in Australia would make sense on a number of levels.

“Why can’t (wind turbines) be made in Australia? It’s a win-win situation. It will create jobs and bring the cost of project down.”

For Vestas – which last year notched up more than 1GW of turbine orders around Australia, including the recent contract to supply the 184MW Warradarge Wind Farm in Western Australia – the idea of setting up operations in Australia has obviously become a no-brainer.

This has certainly not always been the case. Just over a decade ago, Vestas was forced to close two manufacturing plants it had opened in Australia in 2005, after the then Coalition government rejected an independent recommendation to extend the Mandatory Renewable Energy Target.

“We had to close both of them – because of the lack of certainty,” then CEO of Vestas Wind Systems Ditlev Engel told RenewEconomy in an interview in 2013.

And in 2013, with Tony Abbott at the helm, Engel had stressed there was still little chance of any new local manufacturing for blades and nacelles being created in Australia, even if the country had great prospects for a flourishing wind industry and for local jobs.

In comments on Thursday, however, Vestas said it was now committed to building new skills in the local work force in Geelong, and helping to build on Geelong’s background as a heavy manufacturing hub, to establish a renewable energy hub.

“In Marand, we are partnering with an experienced manufacturing service provider with outstanding capabilities and skilled personnel,” said Vestas Asia Pacific President, Clive Turton.

“Their experience in automotive, aerospace, defence and rail industries meets all of our requirements around quality and technical expertise.”

Wind farm developer and owner of the Dundonnell project, Tilt Renewables, has also welcomed the news.

“As the largest customer of the new Renewable Energy Hub, Tilt Renewables is very pleased to be contributing to the creation of new jobs and training opportunities for people in the City of Geelong and south-west Victoria,” said Tilt chief executive Deion Campbell.

And state energy minister, Lily D’Ambrosio, visited the site of the new Hub along with Premier Daniel Andrews on Thursday.

“This partnership shows how our transition to renewable energy is good for the environment and good for the economy – creating demand for local manufacturing skills and significant investment in the local supply chain,” she said.

For Vestas, the Hub will also be used as a support centre to service the growing Vestas turbine fleet in Western Victoria, and as a logistics centre and specialist facility for large turbine spare parts.

The wind turbine maker is also establishing partnerships with Federation University’s Ballarat Renewable Training Centre to deliver training and employment opportunities for wind turbine technicians, and with Deakin University’s Carbon Nexus to research ways to make wind turbine blades longer, stronger and more productive.

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