by Raul Hernandez
Wind energy is poised to produce hundreds of thousands of jobs over the coming decades now that Congress has passed a multi-year tax credit aimed at spurring investment.
The wind energy industry is projected to hit 380,000 jobs, over five times the current number of workers, by 2030 if the sector can expand enough to supply 20 percent of the nation’s electricity, according to a 2015 report released by the White House and Department of Energy.
The renewable energy production tax credit (PTC), passed as part of December’s 2016 budget deal, was extended for five years and will ensure security and growth by putting the industry back on solid footing.
* Jobs Estimates from Department of Energy’s Wind Vision Report
The American Wind Energy Association (AWEA) and industry leaders praised the extension saying that it will provide stability for an industry greatly affected by policy uncertainty in recent years.
“My company will be expanding its project development for the coming year because of the PTC extension,” said Mike Garland, CEO of Pattern Energy and Chairman of the Board for AWEA. “Having PTCs for five years will allow us to make more supply commitments and build more projects, creating more jobs.”
The Bureau of Labor Statistics projects wind turbine service technicians to be the single fastest growing occupation in the country over the next ten years. The 108 percent growth projection vastly outperforms even the second ranked profession, occupational therapy assistants, at 43 percent.
Jarrod Beckstrom, a wind turbine technician for NextEra Energy Resources in Oklahoma, was interviewing for positions before he had even completed his associate degree in wind turbine technology at Oklahoma State University in 2014.
“I think that’s pretty typical from a lot of the guys I know who went through the different programs around,” said Beckstrom.
But these companies are not only looking to hire turbine technicians. As they expand, companies are searching for proven workers in order to oversee new projects and keep up with demand. This is good news for any technicians eyeing a promotion.
“As long as I’ve been there, they’ve been hiring and a lot of that is internal growth. There are opportunities within the company. People move up to training or management.”
The PTC has received one or two year extensions in the past and production often spikes during those times as a result, but reaching long-term goals requires steady growth, especially for wind energy.
“It’s a longer term project to get wind underway so knowing that they have policy stability is clearly going to benefit the industry,” said Phil Jordan, Vice President of BW Research Partnership. “Instead of a massive rush to get everything done by the end of 2016 and then nothing for several years after that, I think we’ll steady growth over the next few years.”
But some experts are advising caution when making long-term projections. One such industry expert is Jay Warmke, the Renewable Energy Division Chair for the Electronics Technicians Association.
“Small wind is viable in some areas, but solar energy is much more attractive to homeowners and small businesses because of maintenance issues,” said Warmke.
Warmke’s main argument is that wind technology is largely a utility-scale endeavor and as such, will be subject to the energy demands of American consumers whose electronics are becoming more and more energy efficient.
“Certainly the Renewable Energy Production Tax Credit will help the wind industry – my question would be, just how much wind generation is required?” said Warmke. “Now that the aging fleet of coal power has largely been replaced, there has actually been a decline in electrical consumption here in the US since 2008 due to efficiencies and the recession”
But while Warmke is quick to advise caution, he can see the writing on the wall.
“All that said, wind will continue to grow.”
That optimism is partly due to the wind and solar energy sectors standing in stark contrast to the oil and gas industry.
During Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s recent visit to the White House, President Obama announced forthcoming methane emissions regulations. The announcement comes at a time when oil’s global market instability has wrecked havoc on its global workforce.
*Data from The Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis
British Petroleum announced earlier this year they would cut 4,000 jobs, roughly the same number of wind turbine technicians employed in 2014. An estimated 250,000 oil and gas workers have been laid off worldwide since oil prices began to slide in 2014, according to industry consultant Graves & Co.