Last week, the American Wind Energy Association (AWEA) released its 9th edition of the U.S. Wind Industry Annual Market Report. It’s a comprehensive look at the U.S. wind industry’s market trends in 2016. The key takeaway? Jobs, jobs, and more jobs. In 2016, the wind industry added nearly 15,000 full-time equivalent jobs, helping the industry surpass over 100,000 total American jobs. Last year, the industry added jobs over 9 times faster than the overall economy. 2016 was a record breaker for wind power job growth, and the fastest growing occupation in the country is wind turbine technicians.
The wind industry is taking off, recently surpassing hydropower as the number one source of renewable energy generation in the country. This strong growth is due to a host of factors which includes improved turbine technology efficiency and decreasing costs. Additionally, the Production Tax Credit (PTC), a federal tax incentive, was extended at the end of 2015, which provided the industry with a level of long-term certainty and stability in 2016. (Although it’s important to note that the PTC has begun phasing out, and will decrease by 20% in value each year until it is completely eliminated for new wind farm projects that begin construction in 2020).
While utility-scale wind farms are just emerging in the Southeast, wind manufacturing facilities have been making a strong impact here for many years. The report concludes that our region contains more than 100 facilities supplying components and materials to the industry. Each red dot on the map below represents an active wind-related manufacturing facility:
The economic benefits the industry provides extend way beyond direct wind power jobs. Across rural America, wind turbines are acting as a drought-proof cash crop for US farmers & ranchers who lease their land to host wind farms. Nationwide, wind power pays landowners $245 million in lease payments every year. More than 99% of wind power capacity is located in rural areas, with 71% located in low-income counties.
The South’s newest wind farm, Amazon Wind Farm U.S. East, in North Carolina is a perfect example of the impact a wind farm can make on a local, rural economy. The project generated approximately 250 construction jobs and 14 permanent jobs, but these statistics just touch the surface when it comes to economic activity. The wind farm is a $400 million capital investment in Perquimans and Pasquotank Counties, and the project is expected to generate $250,000 in property tax revenues in just 2017 alone. That additional money means better local public services with less tax burden on residents. The wind developer, Avangrid (formally Iberdrola), is now the largest taxpayer in the two counties the turbines are located in. The combination of landowner payments and local taxes add up to $1.1 million injected into the local economy a year!
With a successful end to 2016, the amount of wind power capacity installed has doubled in just six years. The report looks towards the future, predicting that the U.S. could have 248,000 wind related jobs by 2020. As the South begins to emerge as the next frontier for wind energy development, we hope to see a good portion of those jobs coming our way in the near future.