Vestas Says Workers Will Be Paid During Temporary Plant Closure

Mistaken Reports Of Workforce 'Furlough' Confused, Worried Windsor Workers

Something may have been lost in translation when the Danish firm Vestas Wind Systems announced Monday that it was temporarily closing its Windsor plant next year.

In a press report attributed to Peter Kruse, Vestas chief spokesman in Denmark, the firm said most if not all the 500 employees would be placed on "furlough" at the wind-turbine blade manufacturing plant for an undetermined length of time. A spokesman for the firm's U.S. headquarters in Portland, Ore., confirmed the workforce furlough for 7NEWS.

But on Tuesday, Kruse said: “I don't know what 'furlough' means," according to the Greeley Tribune.

He continued to explain that while the Windsor plant will temporarily stop making blades during a traditionally slow first quarter, workers will keep getting paid to participate in training, plant retooling and maintenance.

"I don't know what furlough means, but I can tell you the following: We're slowing down and temporarily closing down the facility in Colorado," Kruse told the Tribune. "We'll use our time not to produce blades but to retool, retrain and help our service guys."

"We're trying to do whatever we can to keep people busy," Kruse said. "I cannot rule out that some (employees) every now and then will have an extended weekend."

The Monday furlough announcement confused Vestas employees and sparked news media questioning of state and local leaders about the reliability of clean-energy projects that often receive state and local monetary incentives and tax breaks.

Gov. Bill Ritter, a champion of job-producing "New Energy Economy" projects, has attended the groundbreakings for all four Vestas production plants in Colorado, which comprise a $1 billion investment by Vestas.

Vestas plants were predicted to create 2,500 new jobs in Colorado by the end of 2010. Now the company says it is freezing the hiring process for the Brighton plants which were slated to produce 1,350 new jobs.

Colorado state and local government entities provided $2.2 million in incentives to attract the $95 million Vestas Blades plant in Windsor in 2008. The state contributed $928,000 -- or about $2,000 for each new job created -- and local government and private entities provided another $1.3 million.

Matt Cheroutes, spokesman for the governor's Office of Economic Development and International Trade, could not say Tuesday how much incentive money -- if any -- the state provided to Vestas to attract the three plants under construction.

Gov. Bill Ritter's spokesman said Tuesday the temporary shutdown of a Windsor wind-turbine plant is a symptom of the global recession and Vestas is "fully committed to Colorado."

"This is a global recession and every sector, every market and every industry is adapting to the most challenging economy since the Great Depression," said Ritter spokesman Evan Dreyer.

"Vestas is fully committed to Colorado for the short-term, medium-term and the long haul," he stressed. "The company is spending $1 billion to build four manufacturing plants here and is investing significant resources to train thousands of employees."

Earlier this fall, Vestas had said the slumping economy would slow its U.S. hiring and building, with hiring already halted at two plants being built in Brighton.

Vestas will not meet its goal of completing its tower plant in Pueblo by the end of this year.

Kruse said the anticipated drop in production was compounded by a tight credit market and the relatively low price of natural gas.

The Windsor shutdown is a stark contrast to the optimistic celebration at the March groundbreaking for Vestas two Brighton plants attended by Ritter and the Crown Prince and Princess of Denmark.

"Thank you, Vestas," Ritter declared at the event, "for helping to lead Colorado forward and for working with us to develop a sustainable energy future and a sustainable economic future."

It's been a tough year for the green energy giant.

In April, Vestas announced layoffs for about 1,900 employees at the company’s production plants in Northern Europe, primarily in Denmark and the United Kingdom.

When Vestas in July said it would shutter its turbine blade-manufacturing plant on Britain's Isle of Wight and lay off 625 employees, angry workers and environmental activists occupied the facility for an 18-day standoff. Protestors launched Web sites with headlines declaring: "Save Vestas jobs! Save the Planet!"

This week Vestas officials are at the Copenhagen Climate Summit lobbying delegates to "remind state officials, delegates and everyone else that now is the time to take action" on combating global warming. Vestas teamed with Tivoli, Denmark's largest amusement park, to screen a 3D-animation on climate change.

Vestas spokesman Kruse insisted that the Windsor plant shutdown is a temporary setback.

"As for U.S. manufacturing, I can tell you that we’re in this for the long haul," he said.