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Serious Materials Buys Another Window Company—Are Government Grants in the Future?

Michael Kanellos: January 16, 2009, 11:26 AM
Serious Materials, the people who brought you ecologically friendly and sound-dampening drywall, have purchased Republic Windows and Doors. The Chicago-area Republic had recently declared bankruptcy and let its workers go with only a short notice, prompting a sit-in of about 200 workers. Serious got into the window business last year when it bought Alpen Window. The Thermaproof windows devised by Alpen (and now by Serious) insulate far better than standard windows and a lot of walls for that matter. The windows alone can cut home heating bills by 15 percent to 40 percent, Serious CEO Kevin Surace has said. (If you want to hear from Surace directly, go to the company's Website. He pops out from the right side of the page.) With the new administration coming in next week, green building could become a fairly strong market, even in a down economy. Obama has said that he wants to boost the energy efficiency of public buildings. Incoming Energy Secretary Steve Chu is a big fan of building efficiency. The administration is expected to give more grants to help weatherize low income housing. And a lot of the jobs in green building -- window factory worker, contractor, electrician -- are part of the segment of the middle class that has been badly hurt economically. It would not be a huge surprise to see companies like Serious getting grants for rescuing stranded manufacturing facilities like Republic and then getting paid to take on jobs improving buildings paid for by other grants. It's just a thought.

Wind Power Joins Solar in Layoff Trend

Jeff St. John: January 16, 2009, 9:05 AM
First it was solar power companies laying off employees, and now wind power manufacturers are following suit. You can blame the economic downturn and credit crunch. Earlier this month, Fargo, N.D.-based wind tower maker DMI Industries announced it would cut about 20 percent of its workforce at its North Dakota, Oklahoma and Ontario factories. The company said it now expects 2009 demand to be 25 percent to 35 percent lower than in 2008 — a sharp turnaround from expectations of an even better 2009 that led it to announce a big expansion in June. Danish windmill blade maker LM Glasfiber is also feeling the crunch. Earlier this month it said it would cut 150 jobs at its Little Rock, Ark. factory, open less than a year. Arkansas Gov. Mike Beebe told the Southwest Times Record newspaper that the economic downturn may lead to the scaling-back of other wind power manufacturing operations in the state, including those of Polymarin Composites USA Ltd., Wind Water Technology and Nordex USA Inc.  And Spanish wind turbine maker Gamesa is cutting about 180 of 720 workers at its Bucks County, Penn. plant, though the company said it might add workers at another turbine factory in Pennsylvania. Gamesa in October said it was temporarily halting production at its factories, citing slowing demand.  That's a common refrain in the wind power industry. With credit for large-scale projects drying up, wind farm developers are having more difficulty financing projects, turning a shortage of wind power equipment into a potential glut (see WInd Turbine Shortage Over? and Energy Financing Gone With the Wind).  The economic headwinds have put a crunch on the plans of Florida-based U.S. wind power developer NextEra Energy Resources, formerly named FPL Energy (see FPL Cuts Wind Power Plans) and Texas oil billionaire and wind power evangelist T. Boone Pickens alike (see Knocking the Wind out of Pickens). A similar story is playing out in the solar power industry, as the credit crunch and faltering economy have run head-on into an oversupply of solar panels and the polysilicon that is used to make them. Companies announcing layoffs in the past months include Suntech, Heliovolt, Optisolar, and reportedly SunEdison (see here, here, here and here).  Both industries are appealing to Congress and President-elect Barack Obama for help, calling on a shift of federal tax credits for renewable energy projects to direct payments (see Industry Groups Call for Changes to Federal Incentives). The recent financial losses of Wall Street banks and other traditional backers of renewable energy projects have all but done away with their appetite for tax credits, renewable industry advocates say. The so-called "refundable tax credits" don't appear in a draft of an $825 billion stimulus bill being proposed by House Democrats and the incoming Obama administration that was released Thursday. But the draft bill did include more than $20 billion for renewable energy tax cuts and a tax credit for research and development on energy conservation, energy efficiency and renewable energy. That includes $8 billion in loan guarantees for renewable energy power generation and transmission projects.