IMAGE: WIND TURBINE BLADE
Jack Dempsey  /  AP
A wind turbine blade is unveiled during the opening of the Vestas blade factory in Windsor, Colo., on Wednesday.
updated 3/9/2008 12:06:04 PM ET 2008-03-09T16:06:04

The world's largest wind-turbine maker officially opened its first U.S. manufacturing plant this week on Colorado's northern plains, where it expects to produce blades for 600 turbines a year.

Denmark-based Vestas Wind Systems will eventually employ 600 workers at its 400,000-square-foot plant outside Windsor, about 60 miles north of Denver. It has about 200 workers now.

Ditlev Engel, Vestas' president and chief executive, said the United States was the company's largest market last year.

"We have great faith in the potential of our industry in this country," he said.

Gov. Bill Ritter attended the plant's ceremonial opening on Wednesday, calling it "a victory for our state" that will help attract other renewable energy companies to Colorado.

'New Energy Economy' touted
Ritter has set a goal of attracting renewable energy research and manufacturing operations to the state for what he calls the "New Energy Economy."

"We now have in-state manufacturing capacity to supply wind farms not just in Colorado but across North America," he said.

Ritter said the Vestas plant has already sparked conversations with other companies thinking about locating in Colorado. He declined to elaborate.

Vestas spokeswoman Lone Mortensen said the factory expects to reach full production in May. It finished its first blade on Jan. 31.

The plant will make 130- and 144-foot long blades weighing about 6 tons each. They will be used on two turbine sizes, producing either 1.65 megawatts or 3 megawatts.

One 3-megawatt wind turbine can supply more than 1,000 homes with electricity for one year, Vestas said.

Vestas has installed more than 33,500 wind turbines in 63 countries and employs more than 15,000 people worldwide.

Vestas cited Windsor's access to rail services and a skilled work force as reasons for choosing the location.

The town and Weld County offered Vestas incentives worth a total of about $1.1 million in deferred development fees and tax breaks, interim Town Manager Kelly Arnold said.

Craig Cox, executive director of the Colorado-based Interwest Energy Alliance, a trade and advocacy group, called the plant "a true manifestation of the New Energy Economy."

He likened the significance of the plant to Colorado's voter-approved requirement that utilities get some of their energy from renewable sources.

"I think it shows Colorado is finally on the map," he said.

Montana wants a share
But Colorado is not alone. Montana announced this week that a German company is planning to build a wind turbine manufacturing plant near Butte.

Fuhrlander AG says it hopes to start building the $25 million plant in the fall and finished by next year. It will employ about 150 people.

The company selected Montana for its North American manufacturing facility because of recent incentives adopted by the state. It also said a favorable political environment, led by Gov. Brian Schweitzer, helped.

Company chairman Joachim Fuhrlander said the Butte area was picked because of the available work force and training opportunities at Montana Tech.

Wind turbines built at the plant will cost about $4 million each, and produce up to 2.5 megawatts of electricity.

Schweitzer said the plant should help spur the development of more wind farms in Montana.

Copyright 2008 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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