EDP Renewables lays off 10 percent of N. American workforce

EDP Renewables has cut 10 percent of its North American workforce as part of a reorganization prompted by weaker energy demand and a sudden abundance of natural gas that has made wind and solar projects less competitive, a company spokesman said.

Before the move, the Madrid-based company, whose North American unit is headquartered in Houston, had about 330 employees in the U.S. and Canada, according to EDP’s Roby Roberts, who referred to the cuts as part of a “right-sizing” effort in this market.

He could not say how many of the layoffs were in Houston, but noted the company may be in a position to hire again once the reorganization is complete.

“It’s a difficult time,” he said. “But we feel optimistic about the future of clean energy in Texas and in North America, and we’re in it for the long haul.”

EDP Renewables, owned by Energias de Portugal in Lisbon,  is the third-largest wind energy project developer in the world.

In North America, the company — formerly called Horizon Wind Energy — has the capacity to generate 3,500 megawatts of electricity across wind farms in West Texas, the upper Midwest and elsewhere. Worldwide, it controls farms with total capacity of 8,000 megawatts.

EDP is reorganizing its North American division to put more emphasis on operations and sales and less on new project development, Roberts said.

“We were looking at a much bigger market two years ago than what we have now,” he said. “We think it’s going to take some time for the U.S. to get through.”

Renewable energy projects have been touted as a way to create green jobs that could jumpstart the economy and lessen the nation’s dependence on polluting fossil fuels.

But the sector has been hit hard by the economic downturn, which has crimped demand for electricity.

At the same time, the U.S. is suddenly awash in natural gas after discoveries of massive deposits of the fossil fuel in dense shale rock formations from Texas to Pennsylvania. That has pushed down the price of gas, making it more attractive as an alternative to coal in power generation — and created doubts about whether higher-cost renewables are competitive.

The wind energy sector is also waiting to see whether Congress will renew a key tax credit early next year meant to spur development of wind projects.