Can Federal Funds Prop Up the U.S. Wind Biz?

The U.S. wind power industry has huge potential, both onshore and off, but it’s clearly looking for a hand from the government to get through these tough times. First there’s the billions in tax credits from the stimulus package that will benefit the wind industry. In addition the Department of Energy said this week that $93 million of stimulus funding will go directly toward wind power development. Meanwhile, at least one wind company is looking for a loan: Wind turbine maker Clipper Windpower recently applied for $300 million in loan guarantees from the DOE.clipper_windpower_factory1

But will all that money be enough? Like most businesses these days, Clipper and other wind power companies have been hit by the down economy. Slumping demand has prompted layoffs at even the biggest players in the industry. Earlier this year, Clipper said it expected a 15-20 percent drop in turbine production vs. 2008 and laid off about 90 workers — 11 percent of its workforce.

Large, established wind firms producing high volume won’t find much help in that $93 million in stimulus cash directly for the wind industry (not the tax credits). It will mostly be used for research and development and testing of new technology.

But both the loan guarantees and the tax credits could offer significant aid. Earlier this month, GE Energy, one of the top dogs in the wind turbine industry, said that an Illinois wind project built by Invenergy and using GE turbines could be one of the first wind farms in the U.S. to get help from the stimulus act, through the production tax credits. And loan guarantees like the $300 million that Clipper is requesting could be a lifesaver. A DOE spokeswoman said the department is still reviewing its loan applications, so we don’t know how many other wind companies are also vying for some stimulus cash.

Photo of Clipper Windpower’s factory courtesy of Clipper.

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