Wind Industry Losing Jobs But Planning for Big Growth in the U.S.

“When it comes to wind energy, we’re making significant progress both onshore and offshore to diversify our nation’s domestic energy portfolio and stand up a clean energy economy,” said Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar earlier this week. His comments came on the same day that Spanish wind-turbine manufacturer Gamesa announced that it planned to furlough about 165 employees at two of its manufacturing facilities in Pennsylvania in response to weak demand for turbines.

According to an article in the Altoona Mirror, Gamesa’s Cambria County facility, which manufactures blades for turbines, will furlough 73 employees this fall. (There is a 60-day waiting period before layoffs take effect per union rules.)  The paper also reported that 92 employees would be laid off at the Fairless Hills facility in Bucks County, which produces the turbine nacelle.  

In the U.S. wind energy growth practically came to a halt in 2012 due to the pending expiration of the production tax credit (PTC) used by developers to help pay for wind farms. The PTC will sunset on Dec. 31 unless Congress votes to extend it, but a vote for an extension is unlikely anytime soon and industry analysts agree that should the PTC be extended it all, it will most likely be voted on during the lame duck session of Congress that takes place after the November elections. Gamesa said that it hopes the workers will be back at the plant in about 10 weeks.

3 GW Wind Farm and Streamlined Permitting

Meanwhile, the U.S. government continues to make progress in its attempts to streamline the permitting and approval process for both onshore and offshore wind farms.  This week, Salazar announced that two major wind energy initiatives have completed important environmental reviews, clearing the way for public comment and final review. Onshore, Salazar announced the release of final environmental impact statements for the proposed 3 GW Chokecherry and Sierra Madre Wind Farm in Wyoming, which would be the largest wind farm facility in the U.S. and one of the largest in the world should it reach completion.

Offshore, Salazar announced the publication of an environmental assessment for commercial wind leases and site assessment activities on the Outer Continental Shelf (OCS) off Rhode Island and Massachusetts, a key area slated for offshore wind farm development. The environmental assessment for the Rhode Island/Massachusetts Wind Energy Area will be used by the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM) to inform future leasing decisions as part of the Administration’s “Smart from the Start” offshore wind energy initiative. The Wind Energy Area (WEA) comprises approximately 164,750 acres within the area of mutual interest identified by the two states.

BOEM will host public information sessions this month to talk with stakeholders and consider public comments on the environmental assessment. The sessions will help the bureau determine whether to issue a Finding of No Significant Impact, or conduct additional analysis under NEPA in order to hold a lease sale for commercial offshore wind development.

“Today, as we take the next steps toward realizing what could be the largest wind energy project in the world and holding a competitive offshore wind lease sale,” Salazar began in a statement. And were it not for the pending PTC expiration and the wind manufacturing layoffs that are ensuing, the next part of his statement would ring much more true:

“We are really at the forefront of a renewable energy revolution,” he finished.

Lead image: No Pedestrain Traffic with Wind Farm in Background via Flickr. Credit: www.CGPGrey.com

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Jennifer Runyon has been studying and reporting about the world's transition to clean energy since 2007. As editor of the world's largest renewable energy publication, Renewable Energy World, she observed, interviewed experts about, and reported on major clean energy milestones including Germany's explosive growth of solar PV, the formation and development of the U.S. onshore wind industry, the U.K. offshore wind boom, China's solar manufacturing dominance, the rise of energy storage, the changing landscape for utilities and grid operators and much, much, more. Today, in addition to managing content on Renewable Energy World and POWERGRID International, she also serves as the conference advisory committee chair for DISTRIBUTECH, a globally recognized conference for the transmission and distribution industry. You can reach her at Jennifer.Runyon@ClarionEvents.com

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