Wind Energy Industry Jobs & the Economy

 

The United States boasts some of the best wind resources in the world, with enough accessible kinetic energy to produce 3.7 trillion kilowatt-hours of electricity annually—or nearly 10 times the country’s existing power needs. In 2017, American wind power blew through an historic milestone: 88 gigawatts of generating capacity, enough to power the equivalent of 24 million American homes.

 

Wind power provides electricity at a stable cost, creates jobs, and generates revenue for farmers and rural communities. Revenue from wind farms also helps spur local economic development that supports roads, schools, libraries, and hospitals.

 

Wind energy is one of the most cost-effective sources of new generation, competing with new installations of natural gas and costing less than either coal or nuclear power. In fact, the cost of wind power has come down more than 90 percent since the 1980s and 67 percent since 2009, as technology has matured with more efficient manufacturing and enhanced turbine performance and reliability.

 

In many states, and particularly in the Great Plains, new wind farms are now the least expensive electricity option.

 

Wind energy also protects consumers against volatility in fuel pricing. Once a wind farm is built, the price is often locked in through a long-term contract between the project owners and the local electric utility. See the economics section to learn more.

 

Wind Energy Jobs

 

As the wind energy industry continues to grow, it will provide many opportunities for workers in search of new careers. These careers extend beyond operations & maintenance (O&M) positions on the wind farms. The wind industry employs people in areas such as manufacturing, consulting, transportation, legal, finance, meteorology, sales, marketing, logistics, communications, public relations, policy, and more. According to the American Wind Energy Association, at the end of 2017, the U.S. wind energy industry supported 105,500 full-time equivalent jobs associated with wind energy project planning, siting, development, construction, manufacturing and supply chain, and operations. Of the 105,000 jobs, approximately 23,000 were in the manufacturing sector.

 

Wind farms, which are frequently located in the Midwest, Southwest, and Northeast regions of the United States, employ many people. Texas, Oklahoma, California, and Iowa are the leading states in wind power generating capacity, but many others  are substantially increasing their wind generating capacity, which will employ more people. Texas leads the nation in wind jobs with more than 25,000 employed in the wind industry, followed by Oklahoma, Iowa, Illinois, and Colorado.

 

And the future of employment in the wind industry is bright as well. To achieve 20 percent wind power by 2030, the U.S. Department of Energy estimates that the United States will require more than 100,000 additional wind turbines, creating more than 500,000 new jobs.

 

Jobs and Economy - Jobs

 

Source: 20% Wind Energy by 2030 (PDF 3.6 MB)

Wind Energy Development Spurs Economic Growth

 

Since 2005, American wind power has attracted more than $100 billion in new investment. At the current rate, the wind industry is investing between $10 billion and $20 billion per year in the U.S. economy. A significant incentive for this investment has been the federal Production Tax Credit (PTC), which was extended by Congress for a five years, with a gradual phase-down, on December 18, 2015.

 

Wind Turbine Original Equipment Manufacturers (OEMs)

Wind turbine manufacturing represents a growing segment and business opportunity in the wind energy industry. More than 500 American manufacturing plants build wind components, towers and blades. Now, more than 50 percent of a U.S.-installed turbine’s value is produced in America, a twelve-fold increase from just a few years ago. Some turbine manufacturers plan to make 100 percent of their components in America, and the trend is expected to continue.

 

Wind turbines have more than 8,000 components, in such areas as:

  • Power transmission. Wind turbines have a sizable and complex power transmission system, requiring bearings, couplings, gears, hydraulic systems, brakes, machined and fabricated components, and shafts, among other components.
  • Electrical. The electrical system is a critical part of a wind turbine. Common components include power converters, controls, sensors, and generator components.
  • Structural. Turbines use a huge number of fasteners, castings, and other steel products.
  • Equipment. A variety of components, such as fall protection, turbine lighting, and other systems are needed. Turbines also require unique construction and on-site equipment.
  • Materials. Turbines are primarily composed of huge amounts of steel, but other materials, such as composites, ductile iron, concrete, aluminum, copper, and adhesives are also used.

 

In 2005, only one wind turbine OEM assembled utility-scale turbines in the United States. In 2010, three companies opened new facilities, bringing the total number of companies in the United States assembling nacelles to ten. This high-level activity is driving demand for local supply chains for turbine internals.

 

Economic Benefits for Landowners and Their Communities

Wind projects provide revenue to the communities in which they are located via lease payments to landowners, state and local tax revenues, and job creation. Utility-scale wind turbines have small footprints, enabling farmers and ranchers who lease their land to developers to continue growing crops and grazing livestock. Achieving the U.S. Department of Energy’s 20 percent wind energy by 2030 scenario would provide more than $8.8 billion in estimated property taxes and land lease payments between 2007 and 2030 – money that would stay in the local communities.

 

Featured Reports for Wind Energy, Jobs & Economy

 

Dean, K.D.; Evans, R.R. (March 26, 2014). The Statewide Economic Impact of Wind Energy Development in Oklahoma: An Input-Output Analysis by Parts Examination. Economic Impact Group LLC

Researchers calculated the contributed economic impacts of wind energy in Oklahoma during development, construction, and operational phases.

 

Electricity Human Resources Canada. (2014). Renewing Futures: Powerful HR Solutions for the Renewable Energy Workforce.

Renewing Futures is the focal point of a major research program, connecting players in the renewable energy industry via several outlets including webinars, speaker series, and focus groups. Second, it’s an online hub for Canada’s renewable energy sector, providing reliable data and analysis about HR issues affecting the sector.

 

European Wind Energy Association. Economic Benefits of Wind.

 

International Economic Development Council. (2013). Understanding Renewable Energy Businesses: Aligning Renewable Energy Firms and Economic Developers: A Survey of Renewable Energy Companies (PDF 1.4 MB)

The Wind Energy Foundation sponsored this research, which should help economic developers adjust their strategies to best support local renewable energy industries.

 

International Renewable Energy Agency. (May 2014). The Socio-Economic Benefits of Solar and Wind Energy.

The report highlights the significant potential for value creation along the different segments of the value chain for solar and wind technologies, including project planning, manufacturing, installation, grid connection, operation and maintenance, and decommissioning. Additional opportunities for value creation arise from supporting activities, such as education and training, financing and policy making. To benefit fully from the socio-economic impacts of renewable energy, the right mix of cross-sectoral policies, covering deployment and industrial policies, is needed. Building a domestic renewable energy industry requires stimulating investments, strengthening capabilities, promoting education and training, and encouraging research and innovation.

 

 

Additional Resources for Wind Energy, Jobs & Economy

 

Advanced Energy Economy

American Wind Energy Association (AWEA)

BlueGreen Alliance

Business Council for Sustainable Energy

Careers in Wind (AWEA’s job board)

Careers in Wind Energy (U.S. Department of Labor)

Clean Energy Works for Us

Clean Jobs Index

Environmental Entrepreneurs

Environmental Law & Policy Center

KidWind: Wind Energy Colleges and Careers

Windustry

Women of Wind Energy

WorldWatch Institute