Pointing fingers

EBENSBURG – Many fingers have been pointed at various officials since Gamesa USA’s Jan. 29 announcement that it will close a Cambria Township plant after millions of taxpayer dollars were invested in the facility. The closure will cost 62 workers their jobs.

But surprisingly few of those fingers are pointed at Gov. Tom Corbett.

The Republican governor has been a constant target of Democrats both state- and nationwide, and his name frequently tops political forecasters’ lists as the gubernatorial seat most likely to change parties this election cycle.

While a few statewide office candidates have seized on the opportunity to take jabs at the governor, many local union and state politicians are looking to lay blame elsewhere.

Democratic candidate for governor Kathleen McGinty, a former Department of Environmental Protection secretary, was the first to speak out about the plant closure. She issued a press release within hours of Gamesa’s announcement, saying Corbett was not committed to bolstering the state’s renewable energy sector.

“Gov. Corbett actively advocated for increased taxes on the wind energy sector and opposed bipartisan legislative efforts to expand the market for renewable energy in Pennsylvania which, in turn, killed jobs,” she said. “When it opened, Gamesa had 205 workers with a projected 30 additional employees to be added. Sadly, that was all undone by Governor Corbett.”

Corbett wasn’t sworn in until January 2011, a full year after Gamesa announced its first round of 141 employee layoffs in late 2009, which cut the plant’s workforce to 97. At the time, the company blamed the global economic crisis.

Furthermore, when some workers were called back to the plant about a year later only to be furloughed or laid off in July and November 2012, company officials stated that the move was pre-emptive to the expected expiration of a federal energy-production tax credit, which was not renewed until a last-minute fiscal cliff deal over the New Year’s holiday before it finally expired in late 2013.

Lieutenant governor candidate and former U.S. Rep. Mark Critz spoke with the Mirror on Monday about the plant closure and said many groups could have worked together to help save the plant.

“Corbett is one of those people who … is not doing much for renewables,” he said. “I’m a supporter of the Marcellus Shale …. It’s a godsend for our region and for this country. But we also have to look at long-term solutions.”

He said Corbett could have been more proactive but did not forget to include a polarized Congress, whose members’ unwillingness to compromise, he said, led to the expiration of the production tax credit and put the company in danger.

“What we saw in Congress was the complete lack of what I saw as foresight,” he said, noting that energy companies needed the credit “for about three or four more years” and agreed to let it expire afterward.

The biggest problem, Critz said, is that with nuclear power capacity, solar, wind, coal and natural gas, Pennsylvania could be “the energy capital of the country, maybe even the world.”

But no one is committed to working together, he said.

Other officials said governmental entities had been working with Gamesa for years, but the company could not stand on its own.

“It was a business model built on taxpayers’ money,” said state Rep. Frank Burns, D-Johnstown.

Blaming the government is easy, he said, but the company’s constant layoffs and call-backs indicated Gamesa had been in trouble for awhile.

State Sen. John Wozniak, D-Cambria, did not return calls for comment.

Wayne Donato, District 10 staff representative for United Steelworkers of America Local 2635, told the Mirror last week that it would be easy to lay blame at Corbett’s feet, adding that the government is “good at creating and not retaining jobs.”

However, he said, national trends show the country is moving toward alternative energy and that the company had plenty of opportunities to succeed.

“The Steelworkers and Gov. [Ed] Rendell and all the other players that enticed Gamesa to place their factory in Ebensburg – environmental groups and alternative energy folks that kind of were part of the process. … Once all that stuff fell into place and Gamesa planted itself up there, they made no effort to stay close to the groups that helped them to establish their place … and their move into the U.S. in general,” he said.

According to information provided by Lyndsay Kensinger, deputy press secretary for the state Department of Community and Economic Development, Gamesa took $2.3 million of the $5.4 million in state grants offered between 2005 and 2009 for infrastructure development and job creation at the Cambria Township facility.

She said data reported by other news outlets, that the state provided Gamesa with $9 million to help fund construction of the $25 million Cambria Township facility, was false.

Stephanie Weyant, communications director for the House Appropriations Committee, said the $9 million figure likely included money Gamesa subsidiaries received, rather than the Cambria Township plant directly, or money obtained through private financing.

Kensinger said no funding has been offered for either facility under Corbett’s administration.

There might not have been money for wind energy, but the governor has repeatedly maintained that it’s a vital part of the state’s energy policy.

In a 73-page report released Jan. 21 called “Energy = Jobs” the governor touted renewable and alternative fuels as helping diversify to the state’s energy portfolio without emissions or waste products.

The plan also mentions the 2004 Alternative Energy Portfolio Standards Act, which requires electric companies to buy 8 percent of their power from renewable sources by 2021.

It’s clear, however, that Marcellus Shale will continue to be the priority.

Corbett’s energy plan noted Pennsylvania ranks No. 2 in nuclear generation and natural gas production – the last of which helped bump the state to an overall No. 4 ranking in the country for energy production and No. 2 in net electricity generation.

But the state remains behind for many alternatives, ranking at No. 9 for installed solar-generation capacity and No. 15 in wind-energy capacity, although Pennsylvania was No. 9 for new wind capacity installed in 2012.

The report itself even had individual sections for coal, oil, gas and nuclear energy while solar, water and wind fall under an “alternatives and renewables” umbrella category.

Critz said he doesn’t expect energy to be the biggest campaign issue but said politicians must keep the people whose lives are changed by decisions made in Harrisburg or Washington.

“You look at Gamesa and you think oh, you know, it’s this big debate about wind energy – the 30,000-foot debate – but there are families that now are out of work,” he said. “Where do they go? What’s the future for them? And you have to keep these things in mind. … Real people are impacted by the decisions that we make.”