Siemens Group Reopens Plants; GE Closing U.S. Factory

Global wind turbine manufacturers Siemens Gamesa and Vestas have restarted work in their facilities in Spain, after that country eased some of the restrictions in place as part of the lockdown due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The move comes at the same time that General Electric announced it would close a subsidiary’s wind turbine manufacturing plant in the U.S., impacting about 470 workers. GE said that move is not related to the pandemic.

Siemens Gamesa last week confirmed it is furloughing workers at two manufacturing plants in Iowa “for three to four weeks” due to supply chain issues caused by the coronavirus. Siemens CEO Joe Kaeser last week said the German-based company would not cut jobs due to the pandemic.

Siemens Gamesa, which is headquartered in Spain, said some of its factories there reopened April 13, with at least a half-dozen more scheduled to reopen today. The company said that measures put in place to protect workers would remain in force, including “reinforcement of the cleaning systems, keeping distance between workers, reorganization of the flows of entry and exit of workers, separation of shifts and taking temperature before entering a factory, among others.”

Anders Riis, Vestas’ global head of communications, told Europe’s Recharge news service: “We are pleased to announce that our factory in Viveiro restarted full production on 13 April, with our factory in Daimiel at near full capacity. This is in alignment with the resumption of activities in the industrial and construction sectors in Spain. Our construction activity has also restarted or is in the process of restarting projects.

“We continue to implement the extraordinary safety measures we introduced since the outbreak first took hold in Spain, and will continue to uphold our commitment to these safety measures at the very least until the State of Alarm is lifted,” Riis said.

470 Jobs Lost at GE Plant

Tuesday’s news comes the same day that LM Wind Power, owned by GE, said it would close its wind turbine blade manufacturing plant in Little Rock, Arkansas. About 470 workers are employed at the plant.

A statement from LM Wind Power parent GE Renewable Energy said the factory is closing due to a lack of commercial demand for products, not due to the coronavirus pandemic. A GE spokesperson in a statement said, ““Due to declining demand for the specific blades made at the Little Rock facility and the need to streamline operations, GE Renewable Energy today announced that we will close our LM Wind Power site in Little Rock, Arkansas. We understand that this is a difficult time to announce this decision and are taking a number of steps to provide additional support for our employees during this time, including continued pay for a minimum of four months.”

GE bought Denmark-based LM Wind Power in 2017 in a $1.65 billion deal. GE operates another LM Wind Power plant in Grand Forks, North Dakota, which will remain open. Both the Little Rock and Grand Forks plants make 44.1-meter wind turbine blades, but the Grand Forks facility also makes a larger, 62.2-meter blade, which the industry is moving to “as part of the effort to try to drive down the cost of renewable energy,” the GE spokesperson said.

Interestingly, as LM Wind Power’s Arkansas factory closes, the company’s manufacturing sites in Spain have restarted operations after being closed in response to the coronavirus pandemic. The company in a statement said operations have resumed after the company “worked on a plan to ensure the safety of the work conditions at the site, which is our number one priority.”

Siemens Gamesa Furloughs Workers

Siemens Gamesa cited international supply chain issues for its decision to furlough workers at the Iowa facilities.

“The global pandemic is causing an interruption in our business operations,” the company said in a statement. “Driven by parts and material delays directly caused by COVID-19 impacts to our international suppliers, Siemens Gamesa has made the difficult decision to furlough 100 employees at the Fort Madison, Iowa, facility and about 200 employees at the Hutchinson facilities. We will work with our furloughed employees and keep them informed of the available resources to support them and their families through this temporary situation.”

The company said it is “doing everything we can to restore the supply chain as quickly as possible. We will resume full operations as supplies become available.”

Officials in India, meanwhile, said wind turbine equipment manufacturing remains idled there after the country on Monday extended lockdown measures at least through April 20. Government officials said an easing of restrictions could begin next week, on a case-by-case basis in certain areas.

GE Workers Protest

GE workers at the company’s factories in three states protested on April 8, saying they should be able to make ventilators to help patients stricken with COVID-19, rather than losing their jobs. Workers demonstrated at factories in Schenectady, New York; Dallas, Texas; and outside the company’s now-closed plant in Salem, Virginia. Workers at the Dallas site were told in February that GE intends to close the facility next year as part of a restructuring effort.

The Schenectady plant produces steam turbines and generators. At present, workers there are not facing layoffs or closure.

Workers at the company’s aviation facility in Lynn, Massachusetts, staged a similar protest in early April, after GE’s chairman and CEO H. Lawrence Culp Jr. told workers that GE Aviation would cut about 10% of its U.S. employees and furlough about half of its maintenance, overhaul, and repair employees for 90 days. The workers said enabling the manufacture of medical equipment would create and save jobs that otherwise would be lost.

“Instead of laying workers off, GE should be stepping up to the plate with us to build the ventilators this country needs,” Carl Kennebrew, president of the Industrial Division of the Communications Workers of America (IUE-CWA), which represents the workers, said in a statement.

GE in a statement said it “is working around the clock to increase production of much-needed medical equipment. GE Healthcare has already doubled ventilator production capacity, with a plan to double it again by June, in addition to partnering with Ford Motor Company to further increase ventilator production.” But the company said many of its facilities are not configured for the mass production required for ventilators, since they are geared toward other functions, such as supplying the power grid.

Darrell Proctor is associate editor for POWER (@DarrellProctor1, @POWERmagazine).

(Editor’s note: This story was updated April 15 with more information about GE’s plants where protests were staged April 8. The Schenectady plant continues to operate and is not slated for closure.)

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