Wind Keeps Creating Jobs, Even as We Pull Out of Paris

June 9, 2017 | 12:54 pm
Photo: UCS
Steve Clemmer
Director of Energy Research & Analysis

President Trump announced last week that he was pulling the United States out of the Paris Climate Agreement because, he said, it would impose “draconian financial and economic burdens” on the US. This classic fossil fuel industry rhetoric of pitting the economy against the environment (in this case the climate and future of our planet) has been proven time and time again to be a false choice. The latest, impressive US wind industry results show that more clearly than ever.

Numerous cost-effective climate solutions are available that can create jobs and reduce emissions at the same time to help meet the Paris Agreement. In fact, solutions like improving the energy efficiency of our homes, offices, factories and cars, and investing in solar and wind power can take us most of the way there and actually save consumers money.

When you include the public health and environmental benefits of clean energy, the savings and economic benefits are even larger.

Wind power is working for America

For wind power in particular, recent data from the American Wind Energy Association’s (AWEA) 2016 Annual Market Report show how wind is creating high quality jobs and important economic benefits to rural areas, while reducing emissions at the same time.

US wind capacity has more than doubled since 2010, accounting for nearly one-third of all new electric generating capacity since 2007. Wind power surpassed hydropower in 2016 to become the number one source of renewable electric generating capacity in the country. The wind industry installed more than 8,200 megawatts (MW) of new capacity in 2016, bringing the total US installed capacity to 82,000 MW. Wind power generated 5.5 percent of total US electricity generation in 2016, the equivalent of meeting the entire electricity needs of 24 million average American homes.

Wind industry jobs are growing fast. The US wind industry added nearly 15,000 new jobs in 2016, reaching a total of 102,500 full-time equivalent jobs in all 50 states, up from 50,500 jobs in 2013. Wind power technician is the fastest growing job in the US, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Texas, the national leader in installed wind capacity, also has the most wind-related jobs with more than 22,000, followed by Iowa, Oklahoma, Colorado, and Kansas, each having 5,000 to 9,000 wind jobs (see map).

Source: AWEA annual market report, year-ending 2016.

Domestic wind manufacturing is expanding. Wind power supports 25,000 US manufacturing jobs at more than 500 facilities located in 43 states. US wind manufacturing increased 17 percent in 2016, with 3 new factories opening and 5 existing factories expanding production. Ohio is the leading state for wind manufacturing with more than 60 facilities, followed by Texas (40), Illinois (35), North Carolina (27), Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin (26 each).

While manufacturing jobs are concentrated in the Rust Belt, Colorado, Iowa, and California are also national leaders manufacturing major wind turbine components, and the Southeast is a major wind manufacturing hub with more than 100 factories. US facilities produced 50-85 percent of the major wind turbine components installed in the United States in 2015, up from 20 percent in 2007, according to Lawrence Berkeley National Lab (LBNL).

Investing in rural communities. The wind industry invested $14.1 billion in the US economy in 2016, and $143 billion over the past decade, with most of this flowing to rural areas where the wind projects are located. Wind energy also provided an estimated $245 million annually in lease payments to farmers, ranchers and other landowners in 2016, with more than $175 million occurring in low-income counties. AWEA estimates that 71 percent of all wind projects installed through 2016 are located in low-income rural counties.

And now for the kicker…

Wind power is providing major economic benefits to President Trump’s base. AWEA estimates that 88 percent of the wind power added in 2016 was built in states that voted for President Trump. In addition, 86 percent of total installed wind capacity in the US and 60 percent of wind-related manufacturing facilities are located in Republican districts.

Source: AWEA annual market report, year-ending 2016.

Wind power is affordable for consumers. The cost of wind power has fallen 66 percent since 2009, making renewable energy more affordable to utilities and consumers. A 2016 NREL and LBNL analysis quantifying the benefits of increasing renewable energy use to meet existing state renewable standards found that the health and environmental benefits from reducing carbon emissions and other air pollutants were about three times higher than the cost of the production tax credit (PTC).

Wind power is reducing emissions: AWEA estimates that existing wind projects avoided nearly 159 million metric tons of carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions in 2016, equivalent to 9 percent of total power sector emissions, as well as 393 pounds of SO2 and 243 million pounds of NOx emissions.

More wind development, jobs, and emission reductions are on the way

And there’s lots more to come. Wind development will continue over the next few years due to the recent 5-year extension of the federal tax credits, state renewable electricity standards, and continued cost reductions. Studies by NREL, EIA, and UCS project that the tax credit extensions will drive 29,000 to 59,000 MW of additional wind capacity in the US by 2020.

Similarly, a study by Navigant Consulting projected 35,000 MW of new wind capacity will be installed in the US between 2017 and 2020, increasing total wind-related jobs to 248,000 by 2020 and injecting $85 billion into the US economy. They also found that each wind turbine creates 44 years of full-time employment over its lifetime.

When combined with additional deployment of solar, NREL found that the federal tax credit extension would result in a cumulative net reduction of 540 to 1,420 million metric tons (MMT) of CO2 emissions between 2016 and 2030, depending on projected natural gas prices.

Studies by EPA and UCS also show that the Clean Power Plan (CPP)—a key policy for achieving the US Paris commitments–would continue to drive wind and solar development and emission reductions through 2030, with the public health and environmental benefits greatly exceeding the costs.

Backing away from Paris and the CPP could actually hurt the US economy

All these amazing facts show that President Trump is wrong to ignore the economic benefits of wind and other clean energy options for the US, and that’s a real shame.

Market forces and continued cost reductions will drive more clean energy development in the US in the near-term. However, countries like China and India are also making significant investments in renewable energy as a key strategy for reducing emissions under the Paris Agreement.

For America to maintain its leadership position in the global clean energy race, we need strong long-term climate and clean energy policies like the Paris Agreement and the Clean Power Plan. Our country will be stronger for it, not weaker.