U.S. wind power jobs hit record, up 20 percent in 2016

wind farm april elp 5

American wind power supported a record 88,000 jobs at the start of 2016—an increase of 20 percent in a year—according to the U.S. Wind Industry Annual Market Report, Year Ending 2015, released by the American Wind Energy Association (AWEA).

Strong job growth coincided with wind ranking number one as America's leading source of new generating capacity last year, outpacing solar power and natural gas.

Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper joined in the release at a Vestas wind turbine component factory near Denver, saying "In 2015, Colorado ranked fifth in the nation for wind power capacity additions. An investment in the wind power industry and in wind projects generates new jobs, economic development in rural counties and clean air benefits to all Coloradans."

"Wind power benefits more American families than ever before," said Tom Kiernan, CEO of AWEA. "We're helping young people in rural America find a job close to home. Others are getting a fresh chance to rebuild their careers by landing a job in the booming clean energy sector. With long-term, stable policy in place, and a broader range of customers now buying low-cost wind-generated electricity, our workforce can grow to 380,000 well-paying jobs by 2030."

Congress passed a long-term extension of the wind energy production tax credit and alternative investment tax credit with bipartisan support late last year. With the extension in place and the recent industry growth, wind energy is on track to meet the Department of Energy's Wind Vision scenario of supplying 20 percent of U.S. electricity by 2030.

"Made-in-the-USA wind power will help keep our economy competitive and our air clean for generations," Kiernan said. "Our wind energy will never run out."

Chris Brown, President of Vestas Americas and incoming AWEA Board Chair, hosted a press conference today at Vestas Americas Wind Systems' Brighton manufacturing plant. The facility assembles turbine nacelles, which house the gearbox and electrical generator at the top of a wind turbine. Vestas employs nearly 3,700 Colorado workers, and the state is home to two of the nation's top wind tech training programs.

"Innovative turbine technology has cut the cost of wind energy by two-thirds in just six years," said Brown. "Our job growth and cost-cutting is showing state policymakers and utilities how zero-emissions wind turbines are the economical and environmental solution for cutting carbon pollution cost-effectively.

David Eves, President of the Public Service Co. of Colorado which is a major wind buyer, also spoke, as did Jaime Steve, Vice President of Government Relations for Colorado-based RES, Auston Van Slyke, Program Director at Colorado-based EcoTech institute, and Tom Darin, AWEA's Senior Director of Western State Policy.

The job growth in 2015 is primarily attributable to more wind project development and construction, requiring more than 38,000 employees. The industry also experienced a stabilization of its manufacturing sector, which now supports over 21,000 well-paying jobs across 43 states, up over 10 percent in a year. And more than 8,800 jobs are held by wind turbine technicians, the fastest growing profession in the U.S., according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (growing more than twice as fast as the next fastest-growing job of occupational therapy assistant).

Texas leads the nation with over 24,000 wind energy employees. Wind project construction propelled Oklahoma to second place with more than 7,000 jobs. Rounding out the top five are Iowa and Colorado with over 6,000 jobs, and after moving up 11 spots, Kansas ranks fifth with over 5,000 wind workers. Maine gained the most in the state wind employment rankings, rising 16 spots.

Jobs at wind farms, wind-related manufacturing facilities, or both, are now located in 70 percent of U.S. Congressional districts.

Across the U.S. wind has attracted $128 billion in new wind project investment over the last 10 years. Texas ranks number one with the most capital investment at over $32.7 billion. The Lone Star State is followed by California (over $11.9 billion), Iowa ($11.8 billion), Oklahoma ($9.6 billion), and Illinois ($7.7 billion).

Overall, 70 percent of wind farms are located in low-income counties, supplying them with an economic boost. Wind developers pay a growing total of $222 million a year in land lease payments to U.S. farmers, ranchers and other rural landowners.

The wind rush grew stronger in 2015, as the American industry installed 8,598 MW (MW) of electric generating capacity across 20 states. That's the third most ever in a year, and a 77 percent increase over 2014. Wind's first-place finish in new power plant installations represented 41 percent of all new capacity to come online in 2015, ahead of solar (28.5 percent) and natural gas (28.1 percent).

An additional 9,400 MW of wind capacity was under construction as of the start of 2016, with another 4,900 MW in advanced stages of development.

Two Colorado wind projects alone are expected to save consumers $231 million over 20 years, and has already saved the state more than $20 million in fuel costs. Additional data shows consumers in the 10 states with the most renewable energy pay less on their electricity bills than the 10 states with the least renewable energy. Growing wind energy to 35 percent of the U.S. electricity supply by 2050 will eventually save American consumers $14 billion a year, with cumulative savings on their electric bills of $149 billion.

Upgrading the nation's grid and adding new transmission is expected to deliver more clean energy and savings to the densely populated U.S. cities that need it the most. The Upper Midwest grid operator, for instance, found $50 billion in net benefits from such projects, equaling $1,000 a customer.

Transmission helps tap more affordable energy sources at all hours for major cities and big brands like Google and Microsoft. Major brands and other emerging non-utility customers signed 52 percent, or 2,074 MW (MW) of the wind power capacity contracted through power purchase agreements (PPA) in 2015. Low-cost wind energy increasingly appeals to organizations with goals both to lower emissions and to protect their bottom line.

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