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Wind blades head to Chile via Duluth Harbor

Longshoremen help load a wind turbine blade aboard the BBC Amazon docked at Lake Superior Warehousing Tuesday. The ship is bound for Chile. Staff photo by Bob King - Duluth News Tribune

Duluth handled the first shipment of wind power equipment it has seen this season on Tuesday.

In seasons past, a June shipment of wind turbine components would have been old hat, but this is no normal year.

Normally, the port begins seeing wind power traffic in May. But tight credit markets this year have made it difficult for prospective wind farm developers to finance projects.

"Projects haven't been canceled, but they have been delayed," said Jason Paulson, operations manager for Lake Superior Warehousing.

Paulson said there's a lot of pent-up demand that could be unleashed in the third quarter of this year if those credit markets loosen up.

Last shipping season, the Twin Ports handled 302,000 tons of wind equipment in the form of more than 2,000 components.

Not this year.

"I don't think we'll see anything like our 2007 or 2008 numbers," said Ron Johnson, trade development director for the Duluth Seaway Port Authority.

Yet, he remains optimistic.

"We're certainly hoping that projects will start moving again soon, so more equipment will start moving before the end of the season," he said. "With the present administration and the push for renewables, I think the long-term outlook for wind power is still very good."

A new incentive called the investment tax credit could help jump-start wind power projects, said John Dunlop, a senior project engineer for the American Wind Energy Association. This incentive, included in the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, promises to provide wind farm developers with up-front refunds of as much as 30 percent of project costs, but program details still are being developed.

"I think it will have a dramatic impact on development, but the question is how soon," Dunlop said.

After a day's delay because of high winds Monday, the BBC Amazon received its cargo of 40 massive wind turbine blades Tuesday at the Clure Marine Terminal.

Crews at Lake Superior Warehousing Co. began helping to load the ship at 8 a.m. Tuesday. The blades, manufactured by LM Glasfiber in Grand Forks, N.D., arrived shipside via semitrailer, and then were hoisted by crane into the holds of the BBC Amazon. Their final destination is a wind farm being built by Acciona Windpower Spain in Coquimbo, Chile.

The vessel was expected to set sail late Tuesday evening or early Wednesday.

"We've handled wind cargo for Acciona for three years, though this is their first export," Johnson said. "This also marks the third consecutive year the port of Duluth has handled outbound shipments of wind turbine blades -- to Spain in 2007, to Brazil in 2008 and now to Chile."