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Wind energy: Boom sputters as industry tax credit is set to expire

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“It was a big gut check for us,” says Fort Madison’s mayor, Brad Randolph. “It was like, two steps forward, one step back.”

The federal tax credit has helped to buoy American wind energy since 1992 and, more recently, to spawn a small but growing manufacturing sector. Uncertainty over its future now threatens 37,000 jobs, according to the American Wind Energy Association, a trade group. Some of these are held by the 30,000 workers employed in more than 500 manufacturing facilities, from big plants that assemble large wind-turbine components to smaller suppliers providing gearboxes, bolts, and other parts.

The cuts in the wind industry have concluded a strange year of both glut and dearth for the industry and its workers. With the tax credit scheduled to expire, wind-energy developers have been racing to complete new projects. By the end of this month, in fact, they are set to have installed more than twice the new capacity that had been expected at the start of the year, according to the US Energy Information Administration. Half this new capacity is expected to come on line this month.

For workers, this has meant going from too much work to too little. At the Siemens factory in Fort Madison, employees worked seven days a week for much of the spring and summer, rushing to complete orders. “We worked ridiculous hours,” says Derr, who was working overtime until a week before his job disappeared.

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