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First Person: Preparing for a Wind Energy Future

The Fort Smith, Arkansas, facility will be MPSA's first nacelle production plant outside of Japan. The 200,000-square-foot plant, which is being designed and built by Gray Construction, is slated for completion by fall 2011 and expected to employ some 330 people. Recently, the editor of Area Development discussed MPSA's facility plans and the future of the U.S. wind power industry with Paul Thompson, who is the commercial director of MPSA's wind power group.

2011 Directory
In light of the worldwide financial downturn, what does MPSA see as the future for the U.S. wind power industry heading into the next decade?
Thompson: We are seeing signs of growth in the number of wind turbine projects being built in the U.S. and believe this positive trend has the potential to continue over the long term. We also think that wind power has the potential to become a more prevalent and cost-effective alternative energy source in America.

How can we further compete with countries like China and India in this regard?
Thompson: To maintain our competitive edge, we are primarily focused on two areas. First, make the highest quality turbine in the world, and second, reduce cost wherever possible without adversely affecting quality. Those are two of the primary drivers behind the decision to locate a nacelle assembly plant in the U.S. The way we compete is by continuously improving the technology and offering the market more efficient and reliable turbines that bring more value to our customers.

Which parts of the wind power system does MPSA build? What is the "nacelle"?
Thompson: MPSA produces the entire wind turbine system, which consists of the structural tower, nacelle, rotor blades, and hub that connects the blades to the nacelle. The nacelle is the principal part of the wind turbine located at the top of the wind turbine tower that functions to convert wind energy to electric power. It contains the wind turbine rotor axis, generator, multiplying gearbox, control system, and electrical equipment.

What innovations are taking place in wind technology to deal with turbulence and wind shear?
Thompson: The effect of turbulence and wind shear can be detrimental to a wind turbine, because it induces higher stress on the turbine and affects the amount of power the turbine can produce. One innovative approach that MPSA uses in its newest, most advanced turbine is a low-speed shaft coupling that minimizes these forces and transmits only torque to the main shaft.

For the most part, where does MPSA's wind turbine manufacturing take place?
Thompson: Manufacturing of individual components currently takes place all around the globe. Components are then shipped to facilities in Japan, the U.S., and Mexico for final assembly. Of course, we also have plans for a nacelle manufacturing facility in Ft. Smith.

Why did MPSA choose to locate the nacelle plant in the U.S., and not in Mexico, where it already has an operation?
Thompson: Locating in Mexico was not out of the question. MPSA had to find the best location given the selection criteria, and that turned out to be in Ft. Smith, Arkansas.

Can you explain that further?
Thompson: MPSA looked at access to transportation, economic incentives, the presence of a highly qualified work force, and other factors. When all the factors were evaluated, Ft. Smith came out on top.

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