TODAY’S STUDY: COUNTING THE JOBS IN WIND
American Wind Farms: Breaking Down the Benefits from Planning to Production
Phil Jordan, Cai Steger, et. al., September 2012 (National Resources Defense Council)
Stand underneath a wind turbine and it’s easy to be awestruck. Above you is a structure as tall as a 30-story building, with turbines as large as a football field and blades rotating at more than 200 mph on the tips. It is an impressive example of energy innovation, and yet one of these mammoth wind towers provides clean, renewable energy by a simple mechanical feat— the spinning turbines turn a generator that provides power for hundreds of homes.
Wind works. Over the past four decades, wind has provided an increasing amount of the energy we use. Today, wind farms generate about 50,000 megawatts of clean, renewable energy—the equivalent of the energy produced by 12 Hoover Dams.
As this report illustrates, clean, renewable energy is just the start of what we get from growing the number of wind farms across the country.1 The wind industry now employs 75,000 Americans. U.S. companies and their workers produce approximately 65 percent of every wind turbine part.2
And yet all of this growth and increased employment could be stopped in its tracks if Congress allows an important wind energy incentive, the Production Tax Credit (PTC), to expire. If instead Congress acts to continue the PTC, the wind industry can continue its impressive success story. The amount of wind energy generated by U.S. wind farms has nearly tripled in the past four years, and wind power has represented at least one-third of all new power added in America over the last five years.3 In fact, estimates show America could get 20 percent of its electricity from wind by 2030—about as much as we get from nuclear energy.4
To help show what is at stake, the following analysis details just how many jobs—and what variety—flow from a typical wind project. It is time to dispel the myths about wind and recognize the enormous value it provides to the health of our communities and the strength of our economy. Pulling the rug out from under wind now by not extending the PTC would cost jobs today and sacrifice future good, domestic jobs for many Americans across multiple economic sectors.
THE JOB-CREATING POTENTIAL OF WIND ENERGY
This report shows that workers contributing to wind energy include everyone from engineers to construction employees; from blade manufacturers to gearbox makers; from electricians to operators. And they’re located all across the country.
Our research finds that just one typical wind farm of 250- MW creates 1,079 direct jobs over the lifetime of the project.5 Already 25 projects of similar or greater size have been built in the United States and another 100 wind projects sized from 150-MW to 250-MW are in operation.
Importantly, these jobs aren’t only created on the actual wind farm site during the installation of the wind turbines. These jobs are also created throughout the sizable wind farm economic “ecosystem”—the chain of activities and businesses that, over time, constitute the many steps of building a wind farm.
To accurately measure how many direct jobs are created (excluding indirect and induced jobs), our analysis looks across the entirety of this wind farm value chain, from the measurement of wind resources at the early stages, to the project’s permitting and financing, to the manufacture of the components and materials that comprise the wind turbines, to the construction of this wind power project, and finally, its annual operations and maintenance. According to the National Renewable Energy Laboratory’s National Wind Technology Center, there are 14 key value chain activities that contribute to the production of wind power (NREL also identifies education, training, and outreach organizations, which are not included in this analysis).6 We analyze each of the 14 steps independently to determine the number of workers involved at each step in the building of a simulated 250-MW wind farm.
The research identifies 557 total non-construction workers for a 250-MW wind farm. This includes 80 in preplanning and development, 432 workers in manufacturing, 18 in sales and distribution, and 27 in operations and maintenance.
Construction jobs add 522 jobs to the overall project. These workers are spread among three categories, with 273 working on on-site civil works, such as roads, and foundations; 202 working on mechanical assembly, such as the installation of the wind turbines; and 47 working on on site electrical work, such as grid connection.
Our analysis also confirmed that a large number of manufacturing jobs are created throughout the supply chain for a wind farm, and a growing number of the jobs are being filled by American workers.7 For example, the domestic content of wind turbines (the fraction of wind farm equipment sourced in America, as measured by cost) has essentially doubled in the last six years, from 35 percent in 2005-2006 to 67 percent in 2011.8 A recent Accenture report highlighted that companies are more and more focused on manufacturing near demand centers.9 In the wind industry, this dynamic is potentially even more apparent, given the size and complexity of wind turbines and therefore the advantageousness of local production for transport reasons. This report has specifically chosen to profile either American companies or foreign companies with a strong domestic presence, to highlight that all of the jobs created from U.S. wind farm development can be located in America.
COMPANIES AND COMMUNITIES ALSO BENEFIT FROM WIND POWER
In addition to jobs, wind projects boost revenues and create new markets for a wide range of companies across many different industries. Each of the 14 steps in building a wind farm outlined in this report represent new opportunities for dozens of companies across many different cities and states. In this report, we identify a number of companies that are already part of the wind supply chain and realizing these opportunities, including: Michigan-based Ventower which manufactures and supplies the steel towers for wind farms; Danotek Motion Technologies, supplying the wind industry with generators and power converters; and Maine-based Reed & Reed, a contractor that can provide a full-set of mechanical, civil, structural, and electrical work to construct wind farms, among many others.
Moreover, wind power projects offers significant benefits to entire communities where these projects are built—from new earnings opportunities for farmers and landowners to additional tax revenues and lease payments that support other community priorities, such as better education, infrastructure, and economic development. This report excerpts a separate NRDC report that highlights four case studies of communities benefiting from wind power.
Unfortunately, misconceptions about the viability of wind power downplay the strong economic and employment benefits of wind power, and ignore the continued innovation in this sector. This report is ultimately an exercise in telling the story of one large wind farm—showing the full economic impact—to demonstrate the impressive value created by these projects, to highlight the opportunities for American companies, communities, and workers, and to caution what is at risk if we don’t continue to invest in these renewable technologies.
Across America, the U.S. wind industry is exceeding expectations. This report offers a snapshot of this emerging trend, and points the way forward for a clean energy future. We must continue this momentum, by promoting strong energy policies, beginning with an extension of the Production Tax Credit for wind energy, a crucial step towards building a strong, sustainable, market-leading U.S. wind industry…
CONCLUSION: WIND ENERGY WORKS FOR AMERICA
Wind farms of this size and impact have already been built throughout the United States. There are about 120 large-scale wind farms located across the country (including 25 wind projects larger than 250 megawatts and 94 additional utility-scale wind projects between 150 and 250 megawatts). Across America, the benefits of wind energy can reach companies, workers, and communities—provided we build on the growth of the past few years.However, to do so, the American wind industry (and other renewable energy sectors) needs long-term, stable federal and state energy policies. With the right policies in place, the renewable energy industry can deliver cheaper, more advanced clean energy technologies that grow our economy, clean up on our air and water, and position America strongly as a leader in the global clean energy industry. One first order of business should be for Congress to extend the Production Tax Credit. Set to expire at the end of this year, the PTC has played a significant role in growing our American wind industry. Letting it expire would hurt the progress we have made in expanding clean, renewable wind power and put American companies and as many as 37,000 workers at risk.28 (For other recommendations from NRDC, see NRDC Policy Recommendations on page 31).
CREATING JOBS ACROSS AMERICA
Ultimately, while the rapidly spinning turbines of a wind farm are a powerful demonstration of American can-do spirit and ingenuity, wind energy represents much more than that. As the companies profiled in this report show, creating wind energy builds an entire supply chain of innovative American firms, investors, and entrepreneurs. Along the way, American workers can take part in every aspect of this new value chain: scientists measuring wind, farmers leasing their land, engineers laying out wind farms, steelworkers building towers, construction workers assembling components, electricians connecting turbines to the grid, and many other jobs that are difficult or impossible to outsource.
And in wind-energy-connected communities throughout the country, residents can see royalty checks and leasing revenue, local elected officials can use the increased tax revenue for economic development and school improvements, and local job seekers have more options for work. This country has made powerful strides in the past few years to take advantage of natural, clean, homegrown, renewable energy resources like wind and solar power. It is vital that our government help maintain this momentum. We cannot let this opportunity go to waste.
NRDC POLICY RECOMMENDATIONS: STRENGTHENING ENERGY POLICIES TO TAKE ADVANTAGE OF AMERICAN WIND POWER
NRDC proposes the following policy recommendations to support U.S. renewable power technologies, such as wind, solar, and geothermal energy.
The inclusion of any company within this document is not a statement of support by those companies for any of the opinions or recommendation contained herein.
IMMEDIATE NEEDS…Extend the Production Tax Credit (PTC) to Bring Down Costs and Drive Innovation…Use Master Limited Partnerships (MLPs) and Other Policies to Promote Clean Energy Investment …
NEAR-TERM…Set Standards to Further Increase Demand for Renewable Energy…Establish Carbon Standards That Level the Playing Field for Renewables…Facilitate Construction of Well-Sited Transmission Lines…Site Wind Energy to Mitigate Environmental Impacts…