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Duluth handles Grand Forks wind turbines

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

DULUTH - Duluth handled the first shipment of wind power equipment it has seen this season 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.

"We have a stack of inquiries," said Adele Yorde, public relations manager for the Duluth Seaway Port Authority.

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.

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.

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.

The fiberglass blades are each 132 feet long and weigh 12,743 pounds. Stiff winds, gusting as fast as 40 mph, forced longshoremen to postpone loading the ship Monday.

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, arrived shipside via semitrailer and then were hoisted by crane into the holds of the BBC Amazon. Twenty-six of the blades will be nested inside the vessel's hull, and the remaining 14 will make the trip from Duluth to their final destination, wind farm being built by Acciona Windpower Spain in Coquimbo, Chile.