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Siemens Makes Major Move in Natural Gas Market with 'Energy Hub'

Siemens makes a major move in the market for energy systems powered by natural gas with the inauguration today of a new turbine plant in North Carolina, a key component of the company's manufacturing center for the Americas.

The addition of the recently completed 450,000-square-foot plant for making gas turbines rounds out Siemens' production site for heavy duty energy equipment in Charlotte. The gas turbine factory, which was built to the LEED-Gold standard, joins an electric generator and steam turbine plant and a LEED-Gold certified engineering facility at the center.

All told, slightly more than 1 million square feet of factory space is now based at the complex and makes good on a Siemens commitment to support cleaner energy generation, expand manufacturing in the U.S. and create more jobs. The effort represents a $350 million investment by the company, said Mark Pringle, director of operations for Siemens Energy Inc.

"What we're creating is an energy hub in Charlotte, North Carolina," said Pringle, who talked to me yesterday about the expanded facility.

Siemens is among the companies, like GE, that are betting big on a trend for increased use of natural gas for generating electricity and are ramping up production of the equipment that makes such power generation possible.

Up-to-date combined cycle plants that are fired by gas turbines can reduce carbon dioxide emissions by roughly 30 percent compared to aging coal-fired plants, Pringle noted.  

"At Siemens we're very bullish on the business and the combined cycle mode, we think, is going to be a solution around the world for a way to produce environmentally friendly power," he said.

Siemens already has a gas turbine plant in Germany. The new plant in Charlotte, which replaces a factory that had been located in Ontario, Canada, expands the company's manufacturing capability for gas turbines in the Americas as well as increasing overall production at the North Carolina site, Pringle said.

Siemens' exports from the Charlotte manufacturing hub are expected to grow to more than $400 million annually, he said. By comparison, global exports from the production center over the past three to four years had totaled some $600 million.

Employment at the center also is on the rise. About 700 people worked at the site before the new turbine plant was built. Siemens has added more than 700 full-time jobs as result and worked with local universities and community colleges to provide training programs for the employment pool. The company expects to add another 400 full-time jobs by 2014.

To mark the plant's inauguration, the first gas turbine produced at the site is to be shipped out today. The SGT6-5000F gas turbine, pictured above, is destined for a new 250-megawatt combined cycle power plant called La Caridad 1 in the state of Sonora, Mexico. Siemens recently signed an agreement to supply a second turbine for a sister plant planned in Sonora called La Caridad 2.

The turbines produced in Charlotte are huge. They weigh 300 to 450 tons, ship on rail cars and are about the length of an 18-wheel tractor-trailer. "They're the size of a small house," Pringle said.

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