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U.S. Wind Market Set to ‘Fall Off a Cliff,’ Vestas CEO Says

U.S. Wind Market Set to ‘Fall Off a Cliff,’ Vestas CEO Says
Ditlev Engel, chief executive officer of Vestas Wind Systems A/S. Photographer: Chris Ratcliffe/Bloomberg

U.S. wind turbine sales may “fall off a cliff” unless lawmakers extend tax credits supporting the market beyond 2012, said Ditlev Engel, chief executive officer of Vestas Wind Systems A/S, the biggest maker of the machines.

The so-called production tax credit gives an incentive of 2.2 cents a kilowatt-hour of wind power on payments by turbine operators. Markets have disappeared in the past when such relief is removed, Engel said yesterday in a telephone interview.

“Our concern is that if the PTC is not extended, history has shown us that these markets tend to fall off a cliff,” he said from the company’s main office in Aarhus, Denmark. “We should prepare ourselves for it.”

Ending the program would be a blow to producers including Vestas and General Electric Co., the third-biggest wind turbine maker, already struggling with falling prices amid increased competition from Chinese rivals. Lewis Hay, CEO of clean energy company NextEra Energy Inc., last week said he didn’t expect the business to develop any new wind projects in 2013 and 2014.

Vestas delivered 1,093 megawatts of turbines to the U.S. in 2010, or 19 percent of sales, according to its annual report.

The American Wind Energy Association is lobbying congress to extend the tax measure. Until that’s done, the market for 2013 “has a question mark over it,” AWEA Chief Economist Elizabeth Salerno said on Oct. 25. Wind energy supports 75,000 U.S. jobs, a figure that may rise to 500,000 within 20 years, the AWEA said on Nov. 3, citing the Department of Energy.

Political Debate

While the House of Representatives is considering a draft bill to extend the credit, it may get tied up before next year’s presidential election. Congressional Republicans are already seeking to investigate loan guarantees to Solyndra LLC, a solar manufacturer that went bankrupt in September.

Vestas, which has spent more than $1 billion building four plants in Colorado to replace turbine imports to the U.S., won’t base its immediate plans on the outcome of the tax debate.

“We won’t take it for granted,” Engel said. “We probably won’t know before we pass the presidential election in November and we have a new congress, and then it is too late to adjust Vestas for an American market in 2013 without the PTC.”

Vestas will reduce global costs by 150 million euros ($203 million) next year, partly by cutting staff, it said in third-quarter results, and may make “further adjustments” in the U.S. at the end of 2012 if the tax credit isn’t extended.

Congress Proposal

Vestas doesn’t plan any mergers and acquisitions, instead focusing on growing its own business, Engel said. The industry “needs to do better” at finding new financing, he said, with growing sources that include wind bonds and pension funds.

The company yesterday abandoned its profit margin and sales targets for 2015, saying weak markets pushed them out of reach. On Oct. 30, it published earnings early, cutting its full-year revenue and margin forecasts for the third time in 21 months. It plans 650 million euros of investments in 2012, Engel said on a conference call, and expects a “tough” 2012 and 2013.

“The challenges we are seeing in 2012 and 2013 are less Vestas-related and more the-world-around-us-related,” he said.

U.S. Representatives Dave Reichert, a Washington state Republican, and Earl Blumenauer, a Democrat from Oregon, on Nov. 2 introduced a draft law to renew the tax credit through 2016.

A total of 5,116 megawatts of wind power capacity was installed in 2010, according to the AWEA. In its 2010 annual report, the organization said 221 megawatts of Vestas turbines were installed that year, giving the Danish company 4.3 percent of the U.S. market, less than a 10th of GE’s 49.7 percent share.

Sinovel Wind Group Co., based in Beijing, was the second-biggest wind-turbine maker by market share after Vestas in 2010, according to BTM Consult ApS, a researcher based in Denmark.

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