Jefferson City ABB transformer factory contributes to Missouri wind farms

Friday, September 23, 2011 | 2:17 p.m. CDT; updated 3:32 p.m. CDT, Tuesday, September 27, 2011

JEFFERSON CITY — The ABB plant, nestled in sight of the state Capitol, is the largest transformer distribution factory in the world, but it might not be the most well-known business.

"You can see the ABB building from the Capitol windows," John Hickey, Missouri chapter director of the Sierra Club, said. "I asked a state representative who works in the Capitol if he knew what this factory did or produced. He had no idea."

To raise awareness about the factory, which also builds transformers for wind turbines, the Sierra Club showcased it to the public on Thursday for a Mid-Missouri Clean Energy Jobs tour.

The wind turbine transformers it builds account for only 5 percent of the company's total production, but these transformers are large, multimillion dollar projects.

The company also sends oil-filled transformers to homes and businesses across the U.S. and overseas. Transformers are vital for electric power transmission and are needed to convert voltage to a usable level. 

"Although most of our transformers are the traditional ones for domestic use, we are seeing an increase in the amount of transformers going to wind farms," Bruce Purcell, ABB Business Development manager, said. "The wind and solar industry is good for our business, and we expect to continue to work for them."

The factory sprawls over 100 acres and employs more than 620 people from mid-Missouri. ABB has been producing transformers for renewable energy for the past three to four years.

"We began taking on solar and wind projects when the economy was rough in 2008 and 2009 in order to keep on employees," union Chairman James Rice said.

Had the economy and business been thriving, ABB would never have taken on such huge projects, Rice said.

"Now, we are so grateful that we are involved," Rice said. "It has ended up being beneficial for both us as company, and for the wind and solar farms."

The Jefferson City factory provided the transformers for the turbines in King City, which holds Missouri’s largest wind farm, Lost Creek Wind Farm, as well as wind and solar farms in Iowa, Texas, Indiana and Canada.

Emily LeGrand, an MU senior and outreach intern for Renew Missouri, a nonprofit organization advocating efficiency and renewable energy, took the tour. She said she never knew the plant existed until the tour, and she was excited about the opportunity for the growth of renewable energy.

"The ABB factory proves that renewable energy is creating jobs in Missouri, and that is what is going to get people’s votes," LeGrand said.

LeGrand is working to get a Renewable Energy Standard on the 2012 presidential ballot. Although still in the works, the proposal’s aim is to require Missouri's energy use be 25 percent renewable by 2025.

Missouri voters approved a similar measure, Proposition C, in 2008. It required utility companies in Missouri to use more renewable energy. At least 15 percent of the energy used in the state would have had to be renewable by 2021, but lawmakers changed the initiative after it passed.

The Jefferson City factory is one of the only factories capable of catering to the wind and solar farm clientele.

"Most of our competition only builds the 'plain Jane' stuff," Rice said "We have the resources and space to build whatever is needed and wanted. The farms can come to us with a design and we can produce it."

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