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Jobs dwindle during green power debate

Associated Press Modified: November 5, 2012 at 12:00 pm •  Published: November 5, 2012
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Sen. Mark Udall, D-Colo., said the oil industry benefits from billions of dollars in hidden subsidies, like American troops' presence near the Middle East. "We're underinvesting in renewable, 21st century alternative energy, especially in comparison to the Europeans, the Chinese, even the Brazilians," Udall said.

By next year, federal spending on renewable energy will have dropped 75 percent from its 2009 high of $44.3 billion. Part of the shrinkage comes from stimulus programs ending. But part also comes from Congress not wanting to pour more funds into renewables.

"We're entering a brave new world here, a definite lessening of support from Washington," said Mark Muro, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution. "There's a substantial fiscal problem, which is real, and the need to restrain domestic budgets."

The turn has spooked the wind industry, which expanded even during the Great Recession. A study for the wind energy association estimated that expiration of the industry's production tax credit would cost 37,000 jobs. And in the past few months, wind manufacturers and developers began cutting back.

Kaydon Corp. announced in October it was closing one of three plants in Sumter, S.C., that makes bearings for wind turbines. LM Wind Power said it was laying off 300 workers at its plant in Grand Forks, N.D., and days later announced it was creating up to 300 jobs at a new factory in Brazil. Katana Summit, a Columbus, Neb., based wind tower manufacturer, said it would close plants in Nebraska and Washington state, laying off nearly 300 workers.

In Colorado, Vestas, the world's largest wind turbine manufacturer, has reduced staff by 20 percent, or about 500 people. On Wednesday, Vestas announced it also was closing a research office near Boulder.

That's hurt Walker Components. Company president Craig Walker invested more than $4 million in the cable assembly plant after Vestas moved to Colorado in 2009 and enlisted his company as a supplier. Now Walker is moving some workers to other plants he owns to avoid cutting more jobs.

"This is not a Solyndra," Walker said, referring to the bankrupt solar panel manufacturer that received $528 million in loan guarantees from the Obama administration. "This is a company that was up and functioning and making money."

Huddleston, who worked his way up from the assembly line to production manager, is an undecided voter.

"It's been very hard for me to decide," he said. But, he added, he may "lean Obama, just for the green side."