CANONSBURG – A previously vacant portion of one of Washington County’s largest industrial sites is springing to life again with power-related work.
On Thursday, First Energy cut the ribbon on its new central machine shop and mobile maintenance headquarters in a 110,000-square-foot portion of the Pennsylvania Transformer Technology plant on Curry Avenue.
Pennsylvania Transformer uses about 700,000 square feet of its 1.1 million square-foot building for the manufacture of transformers and voltage regulators for the power generation industry. Until two years ago, it was leasing the remaining 300,000 square feet to a manufacturer of containment vessels for spent nuclear fuel that ceased operations in 2013.
Thursday’s ribbon-cutting also marked the launch of a new company that will revive the manufacture of the containment vessels at the Canonsburg site, with plans to eventually bring up to 125 skilled workers to the operation.
Speaking to about 100 people, First Energy President Jim Lash explained that the machine shop and maintenance operations, which opened March 1 and employ 45, provides a central location to efficiently repair equipment used at the company’s electric generating plants in Pennsylvania, Ohio and West Virginia.
According to Lash, the Akron, Ohio-based company, which is leasing 110,000 square feet from Pennsylvania Transformer, spent $1.3 million to upgrade the area to include machine, repair and electric shops and related equipment, sandblasting and painting facilities, a tool room, fabrication area and offices.
Lash said a staff of 15 mechanics, electricians and other tradesmen work in the central machine shop, which provides equipment refurbishment and repair services for FirstEnergy’s generating plants. An additional 30 employees work out of the facility as part of the mobile maintenance team, supporting maintenance outages and other work at the company’s plants.
“The central machine shop and mobile maintenance team are important to our comprehensive maintenance strategy, which ensures we operate a safe, reliable generation fleet that meets customers’ electricity needs,” Lash said, adding that the machine shop was previously located in a small facility in Ohio, while the mobile maintenance team was spread out across several locations.
“Locating these facilities under one roof improves the efficiency and cost-effectiveness of our operations, ultimately benefiting our customers.”
Thursday also included an announcement from two other companies that will provide equipment to FirstEnergy’s nuclear generation plants from the same Canonsburg site, reviving the manufacture of stainless steel containment tanks for spent nuclear fuel.
The operation was conducted at the Canonsburg site from 2000 until 2013, when Ionics ceased operations there.
Peter Quinlan, president and chief executive officer of Custom Nuclear Fabrication, and a former Ionics executive, told the audience that his company, working with Areva, whose Areva TN division is a leader in used fuel storage and fuel transportation in the American nuclear industry, will make the containment vessels for Areva to sell to FirstEnergy and other nuclear power generator operators in the U.S.
“We are proud to have brought this facility back to life, bringing jobs and commerce to the Pittsburgh area,” Quinlan said. CNF is leasing 200,000 square feet of fabrication space alongside FirstEnergy’s space in the plant.
Quinlan said following his remarks that CNF, which expects to launch its Canonsburg operations in the next three to four weeks, will use state-of-the art equipment to manufacture the stainless steel tanks.
The new company includes many former Ionics employees, including its management team and a workforce of highly skilled nuclear grade welders, fitters, machinists and quality control inspectors.
He said the CNF plant expects to eventually employ up to 125 people directly, while also creating additional jobs through subcontracting work at machine shops within a 20-mile radius of the Canonsburg operation.
Gary Mignogna, president and chief executive officer of Areva Inc., said his company makes the nuclear containment vessels at a North Carolina plant, as well as overseas. With the advent of CNF’s operations, Mignogna said, Areva will be able to “reshore” its foreign jobs here.
“With the opening of these facilities, we’re able to bring jobs back to the U.S.,” he said.
“The available skilled workforce provides a solid base for Areva to continue delivering high-quality, U.S.-made, dry-shielded canisters to our utility customers for the secure storage of used nuclear fuel.”
Dennis Davin, secretary of the state Department of Community and Economic Development, said Thursday’s announcements underscore how far Pennsylvania’s manufacturing climate has changed over the years.
“Ten years ago, if you looked at a facility like this in Southwestern Pennsylvania, it was hard to find (industrial tenants),” Davin said. “Now, we’re filling them up pretty quickly. Companies like this are really critical to Pennsylvania’s future.”
He said Gov. Tom Wolf, who has proposed cutting the state’s corporate net income tax in half, would like to entice more companies to locate in the commonwealth.
Davin said the governor’s proposed 5 percent severance tax on natural gas extraction would use some of the revenue to increase the state’s low-interest loans to industry and provide additional funding for the state’s industrial resource centers and its successful “Business in Our Site” program.