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NRDC Studies: U.S. Wind Economy is Rich and Getting Richer

Nathanael Baker's picture
EnergyBoom Media Inc.

Nathanael Baker is the Managing Editor of EnergyBoom. He has been immersed in the areas of renewable energy and climate change for two years. Before joining EnergyBoom, Nathanael was the Director...

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  • Sep 14, 2012 8:36 pm GMT

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Two new reports published by the environmental advocacy group the National Resources Defense Council (NRDC) show just how vital the wind industry is to America’s economy.

This critical industry could be in for a serious recession within a couple of months.  The Production Tax Credit (PTC), which has been integral to the wind industry’s growth — helping to create 75,000 jobs; generate new investment, $14 billion in 2011 alone; and increase the manufacturing of wind energy components in the U.S. two-fold since 2005 — is set to expire at the end of the year.

Renewal of the tax credit will fall on the shoulders of Congress.  Republicans currently hold the majority in the House, which is significant considering the diametrically opposing views of the country’s two parties regarding energy policy.

Running on the Republican presidential ticket, Mitt Romney has vowed to center his energy policy around developing the country’s oil and gas resources.  He has been highly critical of the incentive programs set up by the Obama administration for clean energy development, and said he is not in favour of renewal of the PTC.

In an interview in Iowa, last week, Romney’s running mate, vice-presidential candidate Paul Ryan said this about the PTC:  “We think these tax credits are important to get industries up and running, but we don’t think they should continue on indefinitely.”  This statement is highly contradictory, considering subsidies for the “well established” fossil fuel industry are more than six times the amount received by renewable energy industries.

The NRDC studies show wind farms not only create clean power, but also significantly impact the local economies around them.  According to the first study, American Wind Farms: Breaking Down the Benefits from Planning to Production, 1,079 direct jobs are created through the development of a 250 MW wind farm.  Currently, there are 26 wind farms greater than 140 MW either under construction or in the development stage across the nation.  Additionally, there are 125 wind farms greater than 150 MW in operation throughout the country.

The development of the wind industry not only creates jobs, but it also creates new markets for businesses, and new opportunities for communities.  NRDC’s second report, At Wind Speed: How the U.S. Wind Industry is Rapidly Growing Our Local Economies, highlights just how deep the economic impact of the wind industry is.  In compiling this report, the NRDC assessed communities from across the country and the findings are remarkable.

Take for example Sherman County, Oregon.  In 2001, it was one of the poorest regions of Oregon.  The county’s per capita income was $18,254, well below the state average of $29,250.  The county, a population of 1,735, was almost entirely dependent on agricultural production, from one crop in particular — wheat.  All of that changed in 2002 when Sherman Country received its first wind farm.  Over the last ten years, 11 more wind farms have been erected with in county limits.

The economic development Sherman County has experienced over the last decade is nothing short of extraordinary.  Thanks in part to new job opportunities and leasing royalties, per capita income has increased nearly 300%, growing to $52,350.  Sherman Oaks now has the highest per capita income in the state.  Even more, the government now receives $10 million in tax revenues from the 1,000 MW of wind energy now installed in the area.

This money is being funnelled back into the community through direct payments (every household receives a $590 check annually) and public development projects (each of the county’s four towns receive $100,000 annually).  In an era where schools are in the midst of serious cutbacks, Sherman is an exception.  Nearly 20% of all wind farm revenue is pumped into the school system every year.

Sherman County is not the only area to reap the benefits of the wind industry.  However, the economic growth within similar counties may not occur if the PTC isn’t renewed, the American Wind Energy Association estimates 37,000 jobs will be lost if the tax credit isn’t renewed.  And the long-term future for the wind industry could be even more dismal if Mitt Romney is elected president.

Image: Wind Turbines via Shutterstock

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Bill Woods's picture
Bill Woods on Sep 19, 2012

"As for facts, i got my data mixed on my last post.  The measuresments I took on my hand held geiger counter were not in Bequerel - but rather - in REM,, and the REM readings of 500 REM on the Geiger counter wee not funny."

If you'd received a dose of 500 REM (5000 mSv), you'd probably be dead.

Bill Woods's picture
Bill Woods on Sep 19, 2012

"Each of those 900 anchored on stream p.g. systems will be putting out an average of 5 MWh each, i.e. a cheap investment to get 4.500 MWh in replace temporarilly shutting down nuclear power."

4,500 MW-h per year is an average power of 0.5 MW. Heck, a single wind turbine ought to produce more than that. Hardly a replacement for the 100,000,000 MW-h Germany got from its nuclear plants last year.


Rick Engebretson's picture
Rick Engebretson on Sep 20, 2012

Kent, perhaps getting involved with this group might interest you

If you look at their web site you will see all the platforms they work with and where their activity centers. Munich is a hotbed of core electronics development. It would be fun to join them and their peers in their gatherings.

As someone you might call a "neocon," I think before we build energy expensive and capital expensive questionable systems, we can go a long way with new lighting, transportation, and other energy systems.

As always, with technology, details are everything. The details are out there, as are solutions you hope for. I hope to channel your important enthusiasm toward some real players.

Bill Woods's picture
Bill Woods on Oct 16, 2012

You're right. To take an example, the Shepherd's Flat wind farm has a capacity of 845 MW. It was estimated to need 400 construction jobs and 35 permanent jobs for O&M.

Bill Woods's picture
Bill Woods on Oct 18, 2012

You're probably getting confused because you're messing up units of energy (J, W-h, etc.) and power (W, kW, kW-h/yr, etc.).

The Inn drops 300 m from Innsbruck (574 m) to Passau (294 m). It has an average discharge of 730 m^3/s. So the maximum conceivable power it could produce is

P = mgh/t =  730e3 kg/s * 10 m/s^2 * 300 m = 2e9 W = 2 GW ~ 20 TW-h/year.

The Danube drops 200 m from Ulm (479 m) to Passau, where it has an average discharge of 580 m^3/s. (I was surprised the flow of the upper Danube is less than that of the Inn.)

P = 580 e3 kg/s * 10 m/s^2 * 200 m = 1 GW ~ 10 TW-h/yr.

So the total would be 30 million MW-h/yr, not four times as much.

And the actual potential hydropower is a tiny fraction of that, since river banks aren't frictionless and not all the flow is falling that far.

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