From Green Right Now Reports

U.S. wind energy workers are losing their jobs as factories pare back, partly in response to the potential loss of a tax credit that has bolstered wind development.

Depressed relative demand for electricity and record-low natural gas prices also have affected the outlook for wind, according to an annual report by the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) released this week.

Wind projects are slowing in the U.S., as Congress hesitates to renew a tax subsidy for the industry..

Losses include layoffs and planned layoffs at wind manufacturing facilities in Tulsa, Okla., West Fargo, N.D., and in Little Rock, the American Wind Energy Association (AWEA) reports.

In addition, Dallas-based Trinity Structural Towers said it will shift resources away from wind turbine tower manufacturing, according to AWEA.

The number of workers expected to lose their jobs, or already receiving pink slips, in these cutbacks total just over 500. They were preceded by layoffs affecting more than 400 wind workers earlier in the year, AWEA reported.

AWEA says thousands more jobs could be lost if Congress fails to renew the Production Tax Credit (PTC), which has provided wind developers with a subsidy of 2.2 cents per kilowatt of energy produced.

“I’m deeply distressed that our wind industry colleagues are facing furloughs and layoffs due to lack of stable tax policy,” said AWEA CEO Denise Bode. “Unfortunately the industry has begun letting workers go up and down our American manufacturing supply chain, which the industry has so proudly built up in support of the U.S. economy and made-in-the-USA manufacturing. Congress must act now to give wind energy a stable business environment to keep building this new industry and save 37,000 American jobs by the first quarter of next year.”

The industry supports an estimated 75,000 jobs across the U.S., at wind farms and manufacturing facilities. While the wind farms are concentrated in the windiest states, mainly in the Midwest and West; manufacturing facilities have sprung up in several states as part of a recent resurgence in wind production.

But despite strong growth in the industry, renewal of the PTC has been stalled in Congress, which is divided over whether the spending is justified.

The idea of the PTC was to level the playing field for emerging green energy, to help it be competitive against cheaper fossil fuels like coal and natural gas.

Proponents say the tax break is needed, and no different than tax subsidies provided to the oil, gas and coal industries. They credit it with helping build non-polluting wind power in the U.S. over the last decade.

But critics say such subsidies need to be cut in the face of record spending deficits. Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney recently called for an end to wind subsidies. (Yesterday, Romney and President Obama squared off over power sources, with Romney touting coal and Obama touring a wind farm.)

Coal, natural gas and nuclear power supply the lion’s share of electricity in the U.S. As for their subsidies, a study by the Environmental Law Institute found that traditional fossil fuels received $70 billion in subsidies between 2002-2008, compared with $12 billion for renewable energy. Clean energy advocates argue that traditional, long-established sources, such as coal, don’t need supports, but new energy does. Renewables, they note, have a much better environmental profile, contributing to clean air, clean water and reducing the carbon emissions causing climate change. Those who promote traditional fuel sources point to the jobs they provide and their reliability.

On Tuesday, DOE released its annual report on wind, detailing robust growth in the industry in 2011, which has increased the share of clean energy being used in the U.S..

The move to develop renewable energy has raised the amount of clean energy produced in several states, including Iowa, which now gets about 20 percent of its electricity from wind power.

In recent years, according to the report, the industry has helped invigorate U.S. manufacturing, with about 70 percent of the wind equipment installed last year coming from domestic manufacturers.

“This report shows that America can lead the world in the global race to manufacture and deploy clean energy technologies,” said Energy Secretary Steven Chu. “The wind industry employs tens of thousands of American workers and has played a key role in helping to more than double wind power over the last four years.”