An interesting study from the American Wind Energy Association shows that jobs in the wind industry increased seventy (70) percent last year. With 35,000 new jobs created in 2008, the wind industry now employs more people than the coal industry. For clean energy advocates, this is a huge milestone-but can it be sustained? Will wind energy continue to blossom and create more job opportunities?
First, we should examine how this boom came to pass in the first place. For one, wind energy is quickly becoming a popular idea. It’s one of the most rapidly expanding sources of energy in both the U.S. and Europe. In fact, out of all of the new electricity generation installed in the U.S. last year, wind energy made up 42 percent. This figure was no doubt due to the fact that there was a fifty percent increase in installed wind capacity, with enough megawatts coming online to power two million homes. Another key factor to the jump in jobs in the industry is the fact that in 24 states, new wind turbine and component manufacturing facilities were announced, opened, or expanded.
Texas continues to lead the country in megawatts of wind generation, but 2008 saw Iowa (which, like Minnesota, generates seven percent of its electricity from wind power) surpass California for number two on the list. Other states that are notable for their wind power are Washington, Oregon, Colorado and Minnesota. According to the study, Texas has the largest wind farms installed and Indiana is growing the fastest in wind energy (based on percentage).
With expansion and growth happening in so many different states, it should come as no surprise that wind power jobs spiked dramatically last year. When an industry gets bigger, an increase in manpower is required to ensure that it runs smoothly. Wind energy is no different. Expansion allows the need for more skilled workers in different areas. The workforce is greatly benefited by this expansion. For example, people who are capable of manufacturing turbines and their components will be needed. In fact, manufacturers of the turbines and their components created 13,000 jobs alone last year. Expansion also creates jobs for people who can both build and install turbines. It also creates jobs for people to operate and maintain them. Then there are all of the people who don’t have a hand in the actual workings of the wind turbines but who are just as important: the lawyers, the marketing departments, the administrative assistants. It takes countless people in a wide array of different positions to make the industry run.
Like any industry these days, the future is unclear. While there are many bright spots, the current state of the economy makes it difficult to predict what this year will bring. Some say it’s unlikely that 2009 will see the same gains 2008 saw. Layoffs have hit companies that produce turbines and their components; developers are having a more difficult time financing projects. Since wind energy is initially more expensive to develop than other power generators; interest in developing new wind farms will likely decrease during tough economic times. Less interest in developing wind farms will in turn lead to less jobs being generated in the field.
Still, others maintain that the growth can continue. They site factors like the economic stimulus plan that put billions of dollars aside for alternative energy and President Obama’s desire to dramatically increase our reliance on alternative energy sources. In fact, in a recent trip to Iowa, President Obama announced plans to allow off-shore wind energy production-a step clean energy giant Spain has also recently taken. Echoing the U.S. Department of Energy’s findings that by 2030 wind power could provide twenty percent of our country’s electricity, President Obama went on to say that this new step in alternative energy could create 250,000 jobs.
Having a President that is so dedicated to clean, alternative energy sources is a big bonus for the wind power industry. With the economy leaving everything shaky, the best thing any industry can hope for right now is high-level support. To continue at the level of success the wind energy industry is currently enjoying, policies need to be put in place and money needs to be committed to the cause. Luckily for the industry, they have the best ally and spokesperson they could ask for in President Obama.
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