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NRDC: American Wind Farms: Breaking Down the Benefits from Planning to Production

From the Report’s Introduction:

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 more than 30 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.

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.  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.  A recent Accenture report highlighted that companies are more and more focused on manufacturing near demand centers.  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.

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