Windmills breathe life into failing Gdansk shipyards

Fri Jul 6, 2012 1:27pm EDT
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By Karolina Slowikowska and Patrick Graham

GDANSK, Poland (Reuters) - Just yards from where Lech Walesa made his first moves to bring down communism in eastern Europe, Danish businessman Thomas Gaardbo is taking advantage of the skilled workforce from the era to rescue one of Poland's most cherished historical sites.

When the European Union banned state help for the Gdansk shipyard in 2008, forcing it into bankruptcy for a third time, it seemed that all was lost for the enterprise which gave birth to the Solidarity movement in the 1970s.

But Gaardbo has found that the 6.5 hectare hall that once churned out ocean liners is perfect for building the giant steel towers needed for the windfarms driving Europe's shift towards cleaner renewable energy.

Ant-like welders climb along the inside of the towers, which are up to 120 meters tall and 7.5 meters in diameter and carry sails that weigh as much as a Boeing 757.

A major cost in their manufacture is their problematic transport, and the decision by Gaardbo's company GSG Towers to invest 250 million zlotys ($73.48 million)in production in Gdansk was largely based on the advantage of being able to load the tubes directly onto ships in the old free city's harbor on the Baltic.

"It is the perfect place for this; as they say, location, location, location. About 30 percent of the cost of wind towers is transport," he says.

"We are proud to be helping this historic site. Maybe it's because I am an outsider I have to admit that I feel deep responsibility for the people and this place."

The yard, spread over a series of islands and canals in Gdansk's historic town centre, employed as many as 20,000 workers in its heyday in the 1970s and 80s and was almost a town in its own right, with bars, buses and shops.   Continued...

Partially built ships are pictured docked in Gdansk Shipyard May 30, 2012. REUTERS/Kacper Pempel