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Clipper chops South Coast jobs, operations

By   /   Friday, November 16th, 2012  /   3 Comments

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Clipper Windpower appears ready to implement a plan to eliminate all of its South Coast positions and shutter its Carpinteria headquarters by early next year.

Employees learned of impending cuts, which could impact up to 200 workers, at an all-hands meeting on Nov. 7, according to a person who was present. The briefing came from executives brought in by Platinum Equity, a Los Angeles-based private equity firm that purchased Clipper in August.

Platinum Equity declined to comment. Michael Reed, the new CEO installed at Clipper by the firm, also declined to comment.

Clipper’s dramatic fall is on a scale that mirrors its meteoric rise. In less than a decade, Clipper designed and manufactured the biggest turbines in the United States, employed 770 people and saw its revenue skyrocket nearly 3,000 percent in a single year to $737 million in 2008.

Four years later, after dramatic changes to the wind industry and warranty problems that cost Clipper hundreds of millions of dollars, the company has changed hands twice and appears to be winding down.

It is unclear how many jobs Clipper might shed. At its high point, the firm employed about 770 people. About 200 of those employees — most of them engineers, executives and other high-level personnel — were in Carpinteria. The rest worked at the company’s production facilities in Cedar Rapids, Iowa.

By February, Clipper will consist of “somewhere under 100 employees,” all of them at the Cedar Rapids location, according to a person familiar with the matter. Clipper’s management has been in talks with customers, who have expressed an interest in the company as a parts supplier, this person said. In Cedar Rapids, the company’s workforce has settled at about 300, Jennifer Pratt, a planner with the city’s community development department, told the Business Times in August.

Clipper’s development operations have ceased, and it is likely that the only part of the company to live on will be servicing the proprietary gearboxes in its 739-turbine fleet, this person said. Many of Clipper’s employees — including about 90 engineers — have been forced to pursue new jobs out of the area or out of the state, according to this person, who was not authorized to speak to the media and did not want to be named.

City officials in Carpinteria said Clipper has not contacted them about its plans. Clipper has not filed a mass layoff notice with California officials. In August, the company notified Iowa officials that it would lay off 76 workers in Cedar Rapids.

At a recent forecast event, executives at Radius Commercial Real Estate & Investments said Clipper plans to vacate 31,000 square feet of office space on the 6300 block of Carpinteria Avenue in 2013. Clipper moved out of 9,900 square feet of space there earlier this year.

Clipper rose and fell in little more than a decade. James G.P. Dehlsen, a wind energy veteran who had founded Zond Energy in 1980 and eventually sold it to Enron, founded Clipper in 2001. Clipper executed an IPO on a subsidiary of the London Stock Exchange and developed the 2.5-megawatt Liberty turbine, the largest wind turbine made in the United States.

The company topped the Business Times’ list of fastest growing companies, with massive revenue growth. Between 2007 and 2008, Clipper’s revenue grew nearly 3,000 percent in a single year, from $23.8 million to $737.3 million.

But then a series of blows hit in rapid success. First, Clipper experienced cracking problems with the metal skins on its massive blades. People familiar with the problem said it was the fault of a Brazilian supplier — while Clipper inspected blades upon receipt, it could only see “skin deep” without being on hand for their manufacturing. But regardless of where the cracking problems originated, it fell on Clipper to pay for warranty repairs.

The company did so, fixing all of the blades but seriously depleting its cash at a time when a global financial crises made it nearly impossible for wind farm developers to secure capital. By late 2009, Clipper disclosed concerns that it might not be able to stay in business without a cash infusion.

United Technologies Corp., a Connecticut-based defense conglomerate, paid about $318 million for Clipper in a two-stage deal in 2010 as Clipper bled money. But earlier this year, UTC reported that it had set aside $91 million in potential warranty costs for Clipper’s business line.

In March, UTC Chief Financial Officer Greg Hayes called the Clipper acquisition a mistake and said that retaining Clipper would “require hundreds of millions of dollars of investment — and quite frankly, we’re not going to do it.” UTC officials blamed the Obama administration for falling short of its promises to grow the U.S. wind industry.

Platinum Equity purchased Clipper in August for an undisclosed sum.

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3 Comments

  1. Tam Hunt says:

    This is unfortunate news, but not too surprising given the problems that Clipper has had in recent years and the problems facing the wind industry as a whole. However, the wind industry is very much here to stay in the US and globally, growing at an average rate of 20-30% over the last decade. Wind power now supplies over 50 gigawatts in the US and about 300 GW globally. These are big numbers: keep in mind that three GW of wind is equivalent to the output of a large 1 GW nuclear plant. So in the US we have the equivalent of about 18 nuclear plants from wind power. Congress needs to renew the 30% production tax credit for a few more years and at that point wind power will very likely be able to thrive without any tax breaks.

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  2. KJN says:

    Hidden due to low comment rating. Click here to see.

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  3. JR says:

    The people at Clipper are an excellent bunch and there is a lot of talent there. In spite of the current slump in domestic wind, the industry is undoubtedly here to stay. With the proper public support domestic turbine manufacturers will be back in the game soon (I’m talking about the kind of cultural support that aerospace and defense enjoy). It will just take a slight recalibration of cultural values. Somebody someday will make the connection that national and environmental security depends on alternative energy. Best of luck to all Clipper employees!

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