Acciona cuts 40 assembly jobs
by Gregory R. Norfleet · News · March 15, 2013

Acciona Windpower on Monday cut 40 jobs at its West Branch assembly plant, reducing its workforce from 87 to 47 employees and halting its assembly line.
The company brought the employees into a meeting 9 a.m. Monday and most employees left before noon.

The company said the decision was “very difficult.”

“U.S. wind development declined sharply over the past year for reasons beyond our control,” read a company statement. “The reduction in our workforce is necessary to meet the current volume of production while we work to complete new turbine supply agreements.”

Acciona Windpower, a subsidiary of Acciona Energy, stated that it “remains committed to the North American market.”

“We have every confidence in the quality of our product and our workforce,” read a statement sent to the media just after noon Monday. “We will continue to maintain production capacity at our West Branch facility and provide operations and maintenance services for our fleet of North American wind turbines per our contractual obligations. We will also continue to focus our sales and business development efforts toward the goal of ramping up production.”

CEO Joe Baker said Tuesday that Acciona Windpower’s Chicago office did not see layoffs, but Acciona Energy, which shares office space there, announced 10 layoffs the week before.

“We are committed at the highest level,” he said. “We consider this a ‘pause.’ We’re here for the long haul.”

He stressed that the reduction-in-force was “not performance-related.”

“We needed to make the business the right size and fully plan to produce here next year,” he said.

Baker said remaining staff are taking care of existing wind farms, or ordering parts for those maintaining the wind farms, or trying to secure future contracts for more turbine sales.

He said it takes time to get from a verbal agreement to a negotiated contract, sometimes as long as six to nine months. And then two to three more months to order and receive delivery of parts to begin assembly.

“If we got a contract by the end of March, we could be building by this time next year,” he said, but stated there are no contracts that close to closing. He said the staff let go on Monday asked the same questions.

Acciona’s staff, before Monday, was able to build 80 3-megawatt turbines a year and the plant has the capacity to do three times that.

The company had been producing 1.5-MW turbines, but Baker said the industry is “moving to bigger machines.”

Matt Hills of West Branch, a procurement specialist for Acciona who purchased components for the turbines built here, was one of the employees let go. He said Baker made the announcement Monday morning.

“He came right out and said it,” Hills said. “He hoped they didn’t need to do it. We were told to go back to our respective areas and supervisors would let us know who (was terminated) and what to do.”

Hills, who is married with three children, said the news was not unexpected, but “definitely rough” to hear.

“I’ve been with them for more than five years,” he said. “It’s an industry I’m proud to work for. They’ve got great people and good working relationships.”

Hills said the past year has included industry fluctuations and uncertainty about whether the U.S. Congress would extend the Production Tax Credit. The PTC gives 2.2 cents credit to every kilowatt of electricity produced and Congress extended it just before the Dec. 31 deadline.

Baker said it was good to see the PTC extended, but the uncertainty hurt business, too.

“This is a project business,” he said. “It takes 12 to 18 months for the impact to be felt. … If they passed the PTC at the beginning of 2012, we would (have) orders in the shop, not be letting people go.”

Hills said he counted 67 employees in that 9 a.m. announcement, and anyone was allowed to ask questions of Baker. Then, when individuals learned they had been chosen to be included in the cuts, they were allowed to ask more questions, Hills said.

“We had about an hour to sweat,” Hills said.

Most questions were about wages and benefits, Hills said. The company offered severance packages and paid them for unused vacation time.

“They also asked about the permanency of this,” Hill said, and the answer was that it would not be like a layoff as individuals would need to reapply should jobs reopen.

Hills agreed with Baker that the company is working to sign new customers and should know in six to nine months if any come through. He also agreed that could mean production would return next year.

“I don’t think we’ve really embraced (wind energy) 100 percent,” Hills said of the American public.

Hills said he has already been looking for a new job.

“I’ve had my resume out there,” he said. “But I’ve got no ill feelings toward Acciona or the people who work there.”

The company’s parent company, Acciona Energy, on March 1 announced that net profits fell 6.3 percent in 2012, to $246.5 million (189 million euros).

Four years ago, in March 2009, Acciona during the recession laid off about a third of its 188 employees. Some 65 were laid off from all North American operations, with 58 of them from the West Branch assembly plant. At the time, the employees were told the layoffs would take effect in 60 days.

Because Acciona Windpower on Monday had less than 100 employees, it was not required by the Worker Adjustment and Retraining Notification Act to give advanced notice when terminating its assembly plant staff.

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