US wind industry facing cutbacks and uncertainty
US ports expect sharply reduced imports of wind turbine components in 2013 as a result of Congressional delays in extending tax credits for wind developers.
By Stas Margaronis, AJOT
Alastair Smith, senior director of marketing and operations for the Port of Vancouver, Washington, told the AJOT that as a result of Congressional delay in extending tax credits for wind turbines, shipments of imported components were projected to sharply decline after July 2012. Wind turbines must be erected by December 31, 2012 in order to be eligible for the tax credits. The port has seen a slow down in imported shipments of wind turbines built mostly in China and Vietnam. These are destined for the Great Plains states that have been developing wind farms.
The crisis facing the wind energy industry in the United States was evident at the American Wind Energy Association (AWEA) Offshore Wind Conference that took place in Virginia Beach, Virginia in October. Far fewer wind-related exhibitors were present in 2012 in contrast to preceding years. General Electric (GE) and Siemens, the German manufacturer, deployed large booths promoting their wind turbine capabilities in the past, but were missing from this year’s AWEA exhibit hall.
Tax Credit Uncertainty Causes Wind Job Cutbacks
GE and Vestas, “both gave gloomy forecasts for the outlook of the US market because of uncertainty over a critical tax credit,” according to the Financial Times: “Vestas of Denmark, which was the world’s largest turbine supplier last year, warned that US demand was likely to shrink by up to 95% in 2013 if the production tax credit for wind generation is allowed to expire as scheduled at the end of the year. GE, which was the largest supplier in the US, also said it expected its wind business to shrink next year.”
At the same time, the newspaper said, Siemens has announced that it will be cutting 600 jobs from its U.S. manufacturing facility in Iowa:
“Siemens is set to cut more than 600 wind power jobs in the US in response to regulatory uncertainty over the future of wind tax credits that has buffeted the renewables industry and threatens thousands of jobs. The German industrial conglomerate will cut more than 400 jobs at a rotor blade plant in Fort Madison, Iowa, as well as employees at plants in Kansas and Florida. The job cuts account for more than a third of Siemens’ 1,650 US wind employees.”
The meteorological tower on Horseshoe Shoal gathers wind and weather data.
Siemens blames its problems on: the growth of natural gas through shale gas extraction in the United States, a weak recovery and tax credit uncertainty. However, the newspaper says Siemens “pinned the blame on the uncertain future of the tax credits for new wind turbine installations. These tax credits triggered a boom in wind turbine production over the past couple of years. However, the subsidies are due to expire at the end of the year and many customers therefore brought forward orders to beat the deadline…. Local politicians blamed Congress for holding up a renewal of the tax credit.”
Possible Coast Guard Sea Lane Restrictions
The U.S. wind industry believes it may lose at least 50% of potential wind farm sites on the Atlantic coast as a result of new regulations initiated by the U.S. Coast Guard.
Jim Lanard, president of the Offshore Wind Development Coalition (OWDC) and Tom Vinson, federal regulatory director for the American Wind Energy Association (AWEA) wrote to the Coast Guard saying USCG proposes to unnecessarily expand sea lanes for ports and shipping which sharply limits offshore wind sites. The USCG has historically defined ship access routes for each US port, but the current Port Access Route Study (PARS) may establish a new network of shipping lanes between Florida and Maine that is “unprecedented,” Lanard says. The new PARS study contains proposals for north-south sea-lanes that vary from 5 miles wide to 20 miles wide in each direction and could have a ‘devastating’ effect on wind farm development.
Wind turbine being assembled at Mass Maritime Academy in Buzzard Bay, MA
George Detweiler, US Coast Guard marine transportation specialist said that the Coast Guard report’s inclusion of ‘preliminary routing measures’ in an Appendix that suggested shipping lanes of between 5 miles wide to 20 miles wide on a north-south axis “was a what if and not a proposal and we (USCG) should not have called them ‘routing measures’.”
Detweiler admits that adoption of sea-lanes “could take until 2016” and could have a bearing on wind energy area approvals by BOEM. The Coast Guard recommends to BOEM, but its recommendations are likely to be requirements in the permit approval process.
Detweiler said: “The Coast Guard is now attempting to process AIS data, which provides vessel routing through computer processing provided by the Pacific Northwest Research Center. We hope to have good modeling data by mid-2014. The Coast Guard was able to identify some wind energy sites as not appropriate because, in one case, the proposed site blocked a navigational lane to the Delaware Bay leading to Philadelphia.”
Bright Spots for 2013
Lanard told AWEA conference participants that while $150 million has already been spent for wind farm development to date, he expects investors will begin to see progress in 2013. He expects two projects: Cape Wind off Nantucket, Massachusetts and Deepwater off Rhode Island’s coast to begin construction in 2013.
In addition, Lanard said he has a “high degree of confidence” that Congress will re-authorize tax credits for onshore and offshore development after the November election: a Senate Finance Committee bi-partisan vote of 19-5 supported the tax credit extension.
Lanard says 84% of land-based, turbine installations occur in Republican congressional districts, which encourages bi-partisan support.
Lanard also said that the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) is to announce funding for offshore wind demonstration projects:” In early 2013, U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) is expected to announce six new demonstration projects for offshore wind energy that will include the Atlantic Coast, Pacific Coast, the Great Lakes and perhaps the Gulf Coast.”
He hopes: “DOE’s new projects will create a national offshore wind presence that should demonstrate to developers, suppliers, and public officials that “the lights are about to be turned on for offshore wind power.”