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WIND ENERGY
A Site Selection Web Exclusive, July 2012
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WEB Exclusive story

Boats and Blades

A Michigan composites builder has high hopes for the wind energy sector.

WIND ENERGY
Energetx Composites draws on its sister company’s long experience in yacht building.
by JOHN W. McCURRY
E
When the recession hit, long-time yacht builder S2 Yachts spun out Energetx Composites to build a product line featuring wind turbine blades.
When the recession hit, long-time yacht builder S2 Yachts spun out Energetx Composites to build a product line featuring wind turbine blades.

nergetx Composites, a progeny of long-time yacht builder S2 Yachts, is busy carving out a niche in wind turbine blade manufacturing. The Holland, Mich., company was formed in 2008 when S2 Yachts decided to diversify as the recession began to affect yacht sales. In addition to wind blades, Energetx builds structural composites for the defense, aerospace and transportation markets.

Kelly Slikkers, grandson of S2 founder Leon Slikkers, is vice president for business development for Energetx. He says the company has taken the core competencies developed through decades of yacht building and is transferring them to the renewable energy sector. S2 traces its history back to a company called Slick Craft Boat Co., and the company's family ownership has more than 50 years of fiberglass composites experience.

The company has garnered some fame over the last two years for its diversification. Gov. Rick Snyder presented Energetx with the state's first-ever "Reinventing Michigan" award in 2011, and last January, President Obama cited an Energetx technician as an example of worker retraining during his State of the Union message.

"We focus on projects where the customer has very specific requirements and structural needs with aspects of the fabrication that are critical," says Kelly Slikkers. "These products either require close process control or unique materials in addition to the fiberglass we use."

Slikkers says about 80 percent of Energetx' business is related to wind.

"Wind is where we have put a lot of our focus in the last three to four years," Slikkers says. "The same technologies, skill sets, material evaluation capabilities and engineering capabilities are easily transferable to the defense and aerospace industry."

Energetx was granted a $27.3-million tax credit in 2009 from the State of Michigan stretching over 15 years. It also received a $3.5-million federal clean energy grant. Energetx utilizes 250,000 sq. ft. (23,225 sq. m.) of an 800,000-sq.-ft. (74,320-sq.-m.) building it shares with its sister company. The two companies currently employ about 500 with Energetx accounting for 75 of that total.

Energetx has partnered with Aeroblade out of Spain and is licensing its technology for the North American market. This spring, Energetx garnered its first contract to build 150-ft. turbine blades.

Talent, Transport and Tax Credits

Slikkers says Michigan is a great location for composites manufacturing. The state is rich with college-level training programs and companies that provide synergies.

"There is a tremendous amount of human capital that can be leveraged for this industry," he says.

Michigan's location on the Great Lakes is another asset. The company ships materials back and forth between its own premises and those of Spanish blade manufacturing partner Aeroblade.

"The port system and the St. Lawrence Seaway are invaluable," he says.

Slikkers says the young company's business is good, but like so many in the wind sector in the U.S., Energetx is waiting and hoping regarding the possible extension of the production tax credits for wind energy. He says Energetx hopes to be able to add 50 employees by the end of the year.

"One of the key factors is the PTC and whether that will move forward or not. We are passionate about manufacturing the systems we have in place and we are confident our products will have better reliability and ultimately extend the lifespan of blades. Extension of the PTC is critical. We have customers we are talking to who are holding up projects because of the uncertainty. We would like to get that behind us. Ideally, long-term we will have something that creates market demand. We are very confident wind energy can be competitive with traditional energy sources."

Slikkers says too many companies are reliant on the PTC. He suggests an extension for a period of time followed by a phase-out.

"Let us as a manufacturer develop the processes that are competitive and drive innovation. Then we can invest with the knowledge that there is a more long-term market that is not dictated by a two- to three-year PTC."


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