100 jobs at risk as turbine maker misses contract

THE head of Keppel Prince in Portland has warned that up to 100 jobs are at risk after developers for a planned $260 million wind farm near Ballarat tendered the project to an overseas company. 

Company general manager Steve Garner told The Standard he was informed last weekend that project managers REpower, representing energy-giant Meridian, had chosen a South Korean-based manufacturer because their turbines cost $100,000 less.

News of the development has sparked calls from across business, trade unions and politics to protect the manufacturing industry from cheaper overseas imports. 

“We have been advised that all 64 towers for the Mount Mercer wind farm will now be coming from a company in Korea,” Mr Garner said.

“We were banking on it, but they (Meridian) decided to go for cheap imports.” 

Keppel Prince is now only one of two builders of turbines in Australia following last month’s collapse of RPG Australia, which produced turbines from sites in South Australia and Queensland. 

But Mr Garner warned the company only had enough work to go through until April next year and was now reliant on winning a contract to build 90 turbines in Snowtown in South Australia.

“I’m fighting for whatever I can get,” Mr Garner said. 

The company head has been outspoken after a previous contract was awarded to a foreign producer, but he said the issue had become urgent. 

“We’ll certainly be looking at shutting down our wind section of the business,” he said.

While praising energy companies AGL and Pacific Hyrdo for supporting local industry, Mr Garner hit out at Meridian and REpower for selecting overseas companies. 

“We would love to see tariffs imposed on this so we can have Australian-made jobs,” he said. 

Keppel Prince previously lost a tender for another wind farm development for Gunning in New South Wales in 2009. 

It is currently building 17 turbines for a project in Gullen Range, however the remainder of the 73 turbines are being made by another company in China. 

Australian Manufacturing Workers Union organiser Mark Solly said members at Keppel Prince were still stunned by this week’s news. 

“This is just a kick in the guts for the workers in Portland — there doesn’t seem to be a light at the end of the tunnel,” Mr Solly said. “This whole renewable energy thing was meant to be a saviour.” 

The union leader said staff at the site were bewildered by the news. 

He said union and community meetings were likely to take place in Portland next week. 

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