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Wind firm projects 300 jobs in Ventura Co.

By   /   Wednesday, September 24th, 2008  /   Comments Off on Wind firm projects 300 jobs in Ventura Co.

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Jim Winsayer has ambitious plans: to create hundreds of jobs and begin building a factory to make wind energy turbines in the Tri-Counties, all within the next year.

Winsayer heads Santa Barbara-based Continental Wind Power, which aims to make mid-sized wind turbines for large power consumers such as factories, farms, and county and city governments.

Winsayer said the company plans to break ground on a factory by next summer.
Winsayer said the company’s first planned turbines have been spoken for. Although he couldn’t disclose precise figures or who the customers are, Winsayer said the already-booked sales are in the “eight-digit range.”

Continental employs about 25 people, but Winsayer said he plans to expand that to 100 people within a year. About 75 percent of the parts in the company’s projected turbines will come from subcontractors, whose work Winsayer estimates could create another 300 jobs. He hopes to find those suppliers in Southern California.

“We’ve set a goal to say within the U.S., but if we can find it all within the Tri-Counties, that’s our preference,” Winsayer said.

“Overall, this is exactly how the green economy is going to play out,” said Bill Buratto, president of the Ventura County Economic Development Association. “This is one of the first companies I’ve seen come along where we’re going to having something to point to and say, ‘Here’s a success.’”

Winsayer founded Continental in April 2007 and funded it himself through its first year. The company has received an angel investment of an undisclosed amount and plans to seek a Series B funding of between $2 million and $3 million in the coming months.

“A start-up company is a marathon, and we’re on mile 18,” Winsayer said.

Continental has spent the last year and a half designing its turbines. With plans in hand, the company is sending out requests for proposals to potential subcontractors, which it hopes to have secured within the next 90 days. It’s looking for everything: blades, generators, gear boxes, ladders, control boards, software and other equipment.

Although the company is keeping most of its technical details under wraps, Winsayer said the turbines will be less than 200 feet tall and generate about 300 kilowatts of electricity.

“One turbine would supply enough electricity for 100 homes,” Winsayer said.
Continental, Winsayer said, wouldn’t compete with Carpinteria-based Clipper Windpower, which makes massive, multi-megawatt turbines designed to pump electricity in the general grid. Instead, Continental’s turbines would target large power consumers – factories, farms and even county governments – that want to replace a portion of their consumption with local wind power.

The wind turbine industry is poised to explode. Wellesley, Mass.-based BCC Research estimates that he U.S. market for turbines and components will reach $60.9 billion by 2013. That’s up from $7.9 billion 2007 and a projected $11.2 billion this year, according the research firm.

Wind is also taking off in the Tri-Counties. Santa Barbara County officials have released the final environmental review of a planned wind farm near Lompoc that would employ 65, 1.5-megawatt towers, which are larger than the ones Continental plans to make.

The goals of wind power advocates are lofty. Where today only 1 percent of the nation’s power comes from wind, supporters have set goals of reaching 20 percent wind power in 20 years. “We’re being asked, as an industry, to do what we’ve done in 20 years for every year of the next 20 years,” Winsayer said.

But that rapid market expansion raises a problem for Continental: constricted supply lines. Orders for blades, gear boxes and other components have backed up at existing vendors. Wait times are as long as three years.

Continental’s solution is to target vendors that aren’t making turbine components, but could be. For example, a mobile-communications tower company could build the wind-measuring towers that determine the suitability of a turbine site, even though the communications company has never done so before.

By taking a chance on a vendor new to turbines, Continental circumnavigates pinch points in the supply chain. And the vendors enter a lucrative new space.

“Once the opportunity has been created by us, they’re overcoming a big barrier,” Winsayer said. “There’s actually a pretty good concentration of firms, particularly in Ventura County, that may be hurting because of off-shoring. Now there’s an opportunity to bring some of this business back here.”

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