REpower to cut 400 blade jobs in Germany

German turbine-maker REpower is more than halving the staff at its blade production unit in Bremerhaven, amid offshore wind grid-connection delays and ongoing political uncertainty.

REpower will gradually reduce employees at its PowerBlades unit to about 300 in August, from a peak of close to 700 in December, after a large offshore contract for 240 blades from utility EnBW was put on hold, said Norbert Giese, vice president for offshore development.

“If you prepare (production) in expectation of a large order and it doesn’t get commissioned as thought, then it is clear that the company needs to react,” Giese told Recharge.

REpower will achieve the staff reduction by not prolonging contracts for temporary workers, but won’t lay-off those on fixed contracts, Giese added.

EnBW in November postponed its final investment decision of over €1.5bn ($1.94bn) for the 500MW Hohe See wind farm off the German North Sea coast, citing regulatory uncertainty and the lack of a firm grid-connection date from transmission system operator (TSO) TenneT.

Despite some progress on both fronts, it is still unclear when TenneT will commission the BorWin3 grid connection that will link Hohe See to the mainland. Asked by Recharge this week about the status of the project, TenneT said it is currently examining responses to its tender for the connection.

Germany’s current fierce debate over cuts to support levels for renewable energy are another factor making it unlikely that EnBW will deliver an investment decision for Hohe See any time soon.

EnBW spokesman Dirk Ommeln told Recharge the Hohe See project remains “frozen” until the conditions for investments have improved.

“The situation remains unchanged,” he said. “The discussion alone on Altmaier and Rösler’s proposals affects the economic viability of an offshore project.”

Environment minister Peter Altmaier and economics minister Philipp Rösler in February proposed harsh measures to bring down support levels, among them a five-month moratorium before feed-in tariffs would be paid for new renewable plants – potentially especially harmful to offshore projects demanding very large investment sums.

Utility Stadtwerke München (SWM) has already said it will halt all planned investments in renewable energy projects in Germany.

“That’s a typical signal in an agitated political situation. And that is, of course, poison for us as an industry,” REpower’s Giese said of SWM’s decision.

Suzlon-owned REpower took full control of PowerBlades in early 2012, buying the remaining 49% share of the company it did not own.

It founded the blade-maker in 2008 as a joint venture with SGL Rotec, and saw full ownership as a way to accelerate its offshore wind presence.

But visiting PowerBlades in Bremerhaven last week, Recharge was shown a state-of-the-art, but half-empty, blade hall where the company had rearranged production to accommodate 61.5-metre offshore blades.