Salina company working on wind turbine deal in Germany

Wednesday, September 22, 2010, 5:33pm CDT

Executives from a Salina company who are touring the Husum WindEnergy 2010 trade show with a Kansas delegation are working on a deal to fabricate structural poles for a German manufacturer of wind turbines.

“It looks very promising that they can structure a joint venture to do something in Kansas. That was a very tangible result,” says Marlin Penner, of NAI John T. Arnold Associates Inc., who is traveling with the Kansas group.

He says the Salina company, Maico Industries Inc., is a steel fabricator and is owned by a German, Paul Mai. The company has done large jobs in the past. For instance, it did steel work on the Kansas Coliseum.

Penner says Mai met Wednesday with the maker of small wind turbines. That company, which is based in Germany, doesn’t have a “tower connection” in the United States, Penner says.

It’s another example of just how large the wind energy industry really is, says Penner, who has provided daily updates to the WBJ about the Kansas delegation’s trip the Husum conference in Germany. The group is there to try to get European manufacturers of wind turbines to take a look at Wichita — and really all of Kansas — when they consider opening a manufacturing facility in the United States.

Penner says he’s been amazed at how much goes into a wind turbine. They even require oil heaters in nacelles to ensure oil isn’t too thick to run. It takes hundreds of companies to build the components for a turbine. About 960 of them have exhibits at Husum WindEnergy.

“One things that really struck me personally as we walked and looked at the various exhibitors at the show was the incredible diversity of components that go into a turbine. These things are so technically advanced,” Penner says.

Penner says the group on Wednesday met with the minister of economics in the Mecklenburg-Vorpommern district of Germany, who gave a public welcome to the Kansas group and specifically to Wichita Mayor Carl Brewer.

Other tidbits from Penner:

European manufacturers say they are interested in coming to the United States but want to see more direction from Washington on its posture toward renewable energy. The November elections will be important.

The Kansas group met with a wind farm planner and developer that is interested in coming to Kansas. Another meeting is scheduled for Thursday.

The Kansas group also will meet Thursday with the German American Dialogue on Renewable Energy. Penner says that group is closely aligned with a significant wind turbine producer. “If we do well with them, that certainly will influence a major manufacturer of components to come here,” Penner says.
There’s a strong niche potential for companies, even small ones, to get into the maintenance business on wind turbines — traveling to wind farms to fix turbines when they break down.

Penner says the only disappointing news of the day came from back home — the 700 layoffs announced by Cessna Aircraft Co. on Tuesday.

“I hated to read that. Everyone here hated to read that. The mayor hated to read that,” he says.

But it adds motivation to try to diversify Wichita’s aircraft-heavy industrial base: “We’re just proud to be from Wichita,” Penner says. “We just know we have so much capability and we are convinced this particular industry fits us. We just have to try.”