A wind-turbine company that has been credited with bringing green jobs to Pennsylvania and restoring an abandoned Bucks County steel plant has been fined $639,161 by the state Department of Environmental Protection for problems that included emissions violations and "substantial" record-keeping lapses.
The agency announced yesterday, before a holiday weekend, that Gamesa USA had paid the fine. DEP spokeswoman Lynda Rebarchak said the agency was confident that the company was taking "the steps needed to be in full compliance. . . . They accepted the responsibility for the oversights and worked with us cooperatively in outlining this agreement."
The firm's Michael Peck, director of institutional relations, said the difficulties stemmed in part from locating in a decades-old building, once part of U.S. Steel's Fairless Works.
"We took a very long-abandoned and polluted industrial site and decided to purchase it, clean it up, and restore it, and basically return it to the tax rolls to benefit the local economy," he said. "We referred to it as our effort to de-rust the rust belt."
Gamesa's $34 million plant has 600 employees who cover three shifts a day, six days a week. They turn out about 500 turbines a year, and all the facility can produce through 2010 are sold.
Since coming to Pennsylvania, Gamesa, which also operates a blade-making facility in Cambria County, has invested over $175 million and created more than 1,160 jobs statewide.
Among other improvements, Gamesa will install $2 million in computers for better record-keeping and a $945,000 ventilation system to lessen air pollution at its turbine plant.
Rebarchak called the fine moderate and said it was not unusual for a facility of that size to encounter such problems in the first couple of years. The plant opened in 2006.
Other than the record-keeping problems, one of the biggest issues was with emissions of volatile organic compounds (VOCs) from the paints, solvents and adhesives used to make the giant blades and other components of the turbines.
Rebarchak said the emissions did not "pose any health issue for employees, neighboring businesses or area residents." The concern, she said, was that volatile organics contributed to the formation of ground-level ozone, or smog, and Southeastern Pennsylvania does not meet national ozone standards.
Gamesa's Peck said the new equipment included a "regenerative thermal oxidizer" that will burn up the volatile organic compounds before they are emitted.
"It took us some time to figure out what the VOC measurements were for the industrial process we do, then to understand what the best technology is to rectify it," Peck said. "It would have been wonderful if we had understood this perfectly."
Regarding records, Peck said the company "needed a much more intensive computer system that was focused on record-keeping, helping us catalog all our required data, keeping track of all site renovations, and also training, and we have put that in place."
The company was grateful for the DEP's help, Peck said. "They're our partner in the transition process." He said he was "glad DEP keeps such a tight lookout. It helps make sure we're compliant. Everything we do has to be in 100 percent compliance with the highest possible environmental standards. This makes Gamesa better in the long run."
He said that "someone should keep a lessons-learned list so we can apply this on an industry-wide basis. . . . We hope to continue to make this site - in every way, shape and form, gold stars, warts and all - a national example of how to do it."