Failure to renew wind tax credit prompts Vestas layoffs in Pueblo

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DENVER – Vestas Wind Systems, which employs 1,700 people across Colorado, announced Monday that it’s laid off an undisclosed number of workers at its plant in Pueblo — in large part due to a drop off in the wind energy market and Congress’s failure to renew a tax credit for the industry.

With 37,000 jobs on the line across the country, the issue of the wind energy Production Tax Credit has emerged as a major point of contrast on the presidential campaign trail.

While President Obama supports renewing the PTC, along with eight of the nine members of Colorado’s congressional delegation, Republican Mitt Romney opposes it.

Last week, when speaking in Pueblo, Obama hammered Romney on the issue, pointing out that jobs were at stake.

“At a moment when homegrown energy, renewable energy, is creating new jobs in states like Colorado and Iowa, my opponent wants to end tax credits for wind energy producers,” Obama said last Thursday, drawing boos from the crowd.

“Think about what that would mean for a community like Pueblo. The wind industry supports about 5,000 jobs across this state.”

Romney’s campaign has defended its position, arguing that President Obama’s 2008 promise that investments in wind would produce five million new jobs has failed to bear fruit.

“Mitt Romney believes it is a time for a new approach to ensure our nation’s energy independence,” said Ciara Matthews, the Romney campaign’s spokeswoman in Colorado.

“He will allow the wind credit to expire, end the stimulus boondoggles, and create a level playing field on which all sources of energy can compete on their merits. Wind energy will thrive wherever it is economically competitive, and wherever private sector competitors with far more experience than the President believe the investment will produce results.”

Colorado environmentalists, meanwhile, have argued that the credits are essential for wind industry while its in its relative infancy and hammered Romney and Republicans for defending continued tax breaks to big oil companies.

“The irony in all this is that Mitt Romney talks about a level playing field for all sources of energy,” Maysmith told FOX31 Denver last week. “In fact, he’s got his thumb on the scales in favor of big oil. Four billion dollars a year in subsidies go to big oil. Mitt Romney supports those subsidies yet he doesn’t support helping wind energy grow as an energy source here in Colorado.”

No elected official has fought harder for the PTC’s renewal than Colorado Sen. Mark Udall, who’s made a rather quixotic point of giving the same speech in support of the PTC on the Senate floor 15 times.

To no avail.

“Vestas’s announcement today of its decision to lay off workers in Pueblo shows the real-life effect of Congress’s refusal to pass the wind PTC as soon as possible,” Udall said in a statement released Monday.

“Our decision to wait until the fall when we knew this was a problem places not only good-paying jobs at risk, but also slows our nation’s progress toward true energy independence.

“We should not let partisanship undercut the U.S. wind manufacturing industry and our Colorado communities.”