Author Topic: Akron might receive windfall  (Read 3906 times)

Offline dep190

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Akron might receive windfall
« on: January 13, 2010, 02:29:17 PM »
Akron might receive windfall
Local businessman Michael S. Karder hopes to break ground on $30 million turbine plant that could create hundreds of jobs

By Bob Downing

All businessman Michael S. Karder wants is a chance.

Karder, 52, president of family-run Karder Machine Co. and a financial adviser, plans to build a $30 million plant in Akron to manufacture and assemble giant three-bladed wind turbines.

His initiative could create 400 jobs initially and an additional 800 to 1,200 jobs after 18 months, he said.

Karder has a nonbinding agreement with a European wind turbine manufacturer to make and market its advanced-technology turbines in the United States.

The agreement includes nondisclosure provisions that keep Karder from identifying his partners at this time.

Groundbreaking for a 500,000-square-foot facility could come as early as April, Karder said, with the plant operational by late 2010. He is looking at locating on 40 to 60 vacant acres the city of Akron owns off Massillon Road in Springfield Township.

Developing such a plant is dependent on financing. Karder said that will be his focus in the next few months.

Borrowing the needed funds — about $60 million — is not possible because of the tight credit market, Karder said, so he will seek federal and state grants and loans in Washington, D.C., and Columbus.

He has arranged meetings with Vice President Joe Biden and Gov. Ted Strickland.

A December meeting with Ohio officials included most high-ranking members of the Strickland administration. He met again this week with Strickland, Lt. Gov. Lee Fisher and U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio.

Akron probably will offer its own financial incentives, said Bob Bowman, the city's director of economic development. He declined to offer specifics.

Karder is ''very aggressively'' pursuing the project, and that appears to have won over the European company, Bowman said.

Other plants in U.S.

There are seven large turbine assembly plants in the United States: in Vermont, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, Iowa (two), Texas and Idaho. Several more are under construction and will open soon.

Karder said his push to put together his deal began in September.

That's when he drafted a letter to the European company in which he outlined a proposed joint-operating agreement to produce the next generation of turbines.

The pact calls for the European company to own 51 percent of the operation and Karderco Wind Development to own 49 percent.

Under the agreement, a Korean company would supply the generators. It could become a partner later.

Akron had made initial contact with its potential European partner five months earlier, when Mayor Don Plusquellic and other city officials attended an energy trade fair in Hanover, Germany. No deals were struck at that time.

That contact, however, led Karder, Bowman, adviser Robert Gruber and consultant Stephen Kidder to visit southern China in October. They visited a wind turbine manufacturing plant the European company and its Chinese partner operate in Guangxi Province.

The European company's chairman later came to Akron to finalize the agreement with Karder.

Karder said he has spent $60,000 — a total that continues to grow — and has invested ''a substantial amount of my net worth'' in the project.

The Akron plant initially would assemble small turbines with major components coming from China. The turbines would be capable of producing from 100 kilowatts to 900 kilowatts.

Production plans

The plans call for the plant to produce three turbines per day for the first 18 months.

Later, the plant would manufacture key components and purchase other components from Ohio suppliers. The turbines would be assembled at the Akron facility.

Later, larger turbines — capable of generating 2.5 to 3.7 megawatts — would be produced, Karder said.

The plan calls for producing 50 to 75 a year initially, with that number later growing to 600 per year, he said.

Karder and his potential partner are interested in manufacturing large turbines for use in Lake Erie, where more than 1,700 units could be installed in American and Canadian waters.

Off-shore turbines tend to be larger, more powerful and more costly than on-land units.

Parties in Cleveland are looking at a pilot project to install up to eight turbines in the lake by 2013. The state of New York is also looking at putting turbines in Lake Erie near Buffalo and in Lake Ontario, perhaps as early as 2015.

Karder said he intends to submit a proposal to build and install off-shore turbines in New York.

New building

A new building in Akron is necessary because high ceilings are needed and old buildings cannot be retrofitted, Karder said. The turbine production will require a 120-ton crane to lift and move 90-ton generators.

The Akron complex would be responsible for blade design and testing, and tower manufacture and assembly, he said.

Karder would be selling turbines that eliminate the need for a gear box.

Traditionally, gear boxes have been the No. 1 problem for turbine operations.

Karder is looking at nanotechnology coatings as a way to combat ice on the blades, a problem facing turbines in cold-weather settings.

He said he is working with a large national retailer to develop a means of selling and maintaining small wind turbines for individual customers.

If his project succeeds, it is likely to have a big effect on jobs and parts suppliers across Northeast Ohio, Karder said.

''Once it goes, it will be a trigger,'' he said. ''We're so desperate for good manufacturing jobs around here.''

Family business

Getting into wind is not that big a shift, said Karder, who lives in Copley Township with his wife, Kathy-Ann.

The family business in Kenmore was founded before World War II by his father, Mike, who died in 2008 at the age of 88.

The company served the rubber and automotive industries in Northeast Ohio. It once had 125 workers; now it has 25.

Two years ago, Karder said, the realization came that it was time to change.

''We had to migrate to something with a future to it,'' he said.

Northeast Ohio has the skilled people and companies to make wind turbines and the 8,000 components that go into them, he said.

''It's not a big jump. It's a natural progression and a small but very important step,'' said Karder, a graduate of Old Trail School, Walsh Jesuit High School (1975) and the University of Akron (1983).

Wind experts

He admits to initially being ''a little clueless'' about the intricacies of wind power.

He said he has relied heavily on wind experts from around the globe and his own team: Gruber, Sondra Bratcher-Searle, attorney Gerald Cowden, Taylor Bond and Robert Merrill.

Every time a major roadblock appears, ''someone comes along to bail me out,'' he said. ''It seems like there's just a little divine inspiration involved in all of this.''

Many people say it is crazy to get involved in such a project, said Karder, who in 1988 made an unsuccessful bid to acquire LTV Steel Co.

''The naysayers are lined up along West Market Street. There are people out there who are convinced that I'm crazy. But I intend to prove them all wrong. . . . I am still the eternal optimist. Give me a chance and I will pull it off.''



Offline Don in Cleveland

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Re: Akron might receive windfall
« Reply #1 on: February 25, 2010, 10:04:31 AM »
This is great for job creation, but will they be doing anything on a long term basis in terms of creating single home turbines?

Having the mondo-turbines out on the lake would definitely help supplement the public power supply, but that's not "free energy" for consumption of individuals.  They'd be run by a private company and the power sold to your local electric company who would in turn sell the electricity (marked up significantly I'm sure) to you.