Vestas navigates uncertain future
By Erik Siemers
While this week's layoffs only affect those in Europe, Vestas in the U.S. is facing a future that's anything but certain.
In a celebratory tone, wind turbine manufacturer Vestas this week boasted of adding 200 jobs in North America since last spring, with another 150 positions waiting to be filled.
The Danish company — which employs 400 in Portland at its regional sales and service headquarters — touted the 30 wind power plants it erected in 2011, promising as many as 20 more in 2012, a year that’s expected to be the biggest yet for the U.S. wind energy industry.
“2012 is going to be a record year,” said Martha Wyrsch, president of Portland-based Vestas-American Wind Technologies Inc.
But it’s after 2012 that Vestas’ prospects — especially in the U.S. — could fade quickly.
The federal Production Tax Credit — which provides wind energy developers a credit of 2.2 cents for every kilowatt-hour of wind power produced — is set to expire at the end of this year.
The tax credit has become a standard component of wind project financing in the U.S., and has been credited with helping to bring the cost of wind power nearer to rival resources such as natural gas.
But the uncertainty swirling around the federal program threatens to bring the wind energy market to a halt in 2013.
On Thursday, Vestas said it may have to lay off 1,600 U.S. workers if the production tax credit isn’t extended. The statement was specific to workers at the company’s U.S. factories, which are based in Colorado and separate from Vestas’ Portland operation.
Matt Kaplan, associate director for Cambridge, Mass.-based research firm IHS Emerging Energy Research, said a record-high of 10.7 gigawatts of new wind energy capacity — enough to power around to 3.2 million homes —is expected to be installed in the U.S. this year, thanks largely to developers rushing to get projects completed ahead of the tax credit’s expiration.
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