Wind Power Job Losses Mount As PTC Waits

The drip-drip-drip of wind-industry job losses is threatening to become a steady stream. On Monday, Vestas announced layoffs at its Pueblo, Colo., wind tower factory, a move it attributed to a market slowdown brought on by “uncertainty over whether Congress will extend the production tax credit (PTC).”

The Denmark-based company said the reduction at its Vestas Tower America plant would amount to 3 percent of its total U.S. and Canada workforce. Various Colorado media reported the layoff toll in Pueblo, where Vestas began making wind towers in 2009, at 90.

wind industry jobs, production tax credit

Vestas Towers America, Pueblo, Colo. (image via Vestas)

The PTC, set to expire at the end of this year, showed signs of life last week when an extension won approval as part of a Senate Finance Committee’s package of tax breaks. That’s just one step on a long journey, however. The legislation still needs to be approved by the full Senate as well as the House, and that’s not going to happen soon, not with Congress on August recess. The industry has been warning since late last year that a delay in extending the tax credit would begin to exact a jobs toll well before the actual expiration, and that appears to be coming to pass.

The American Wind Energy Association said four companies last week announced immediate or looming layoffs that by November could affect a total of at least 476 full-time employees at DMI Industries in Tulsa, Okla., and West Fargo, N.D.; LM Wind Power in Little Rock, Ark.; and Trinity Structural Towers in Dallas, Tex.

AWEA CEO Denise Bode said in a statement that the companies “represent what is happening and will continue to happen across the country in the U.S. wind industry if these businesses are not provided the policy certainty they need to continue to invest in America and its workers.”

The AWEA pointed to earlier layoffs as well, including Gamesa’s 165-worker drawdown in Pennsylvania and Windlogics’ trimming of 10 Minnesota employees.

In all, the organization sees 37,000 jobs at risk if the PTC isn’t renewed. Even with the layoffs already piling up, that might seem like hyperbole, except that outside analysts share the view that wind – responsible for 35 percent of all new electricity generation in the U.S. in the past five years – will falter without the support that government traditionally gives new forms of energy production.

In an AOL Energy white paper [PDF], analysts from IHS Emerging Energy Research forecast that “without the PTC, installations could collapse from an annual peak of 10.5 (gigawatts) in 2012 to as low as 1.5 GW in 2013.”

Pete Danko is a writer and editor based in Portland, Oregon. His work has appeared in Breaking Energy, National Geographic's Energy Blog, The New York Times, San Francisco Chronicle and elsewhere.

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