US Wind Energy Expected to Grow Six Fold in Ten Years

American Wind Energy Assoc. predicts capacity expansion from 41.5 gigawatts to 300 GW, creating 400,000 US jobs, by 2020

The 2011 American Wind Energy Association convention last month made two clear points:

  1. Wind power generation means local jobs in nearly every state;
  2. Wind power generation is already big, and is growing.

The American Wind Energy Association predicts the US will grow from its current level of about 41.5 gigawatts (GW) of wind power to approximately 300 GW as early as 2020. Almost 2,900 wind turbines were constructed in the U.S. in 2010, bringing the total number of installed units over 35,600. California has about 3.17 GW (as of December 2010) of wind power and about 5,000 related jobs. Wind power growth can translate to the creation of almost 400,000 U.S. jobs this decade.

The convention featured presentations by two governors; a U.S. congressman and Ted Turner, who is investing in renewable energy.

"I've never seen anything more clear as the case for wind, solar, and geothermal," said Turner. He claims that embracing renewables is more obvious to him than the decision to launch CNN in 1980.

A recurring theme in presentations and discussions focused on the erratic, short-term government renewable-energy incentives that discourage long-horizon investments. However, a growing number of state and federal incentives are establishing specific goals that promise growth opportunities for many construction professionals.

Not just any incentive will be effective. "They must be long-term incentives so we can plan intelligently," says Turner, who started Turner Renewable Energy to develop and invest in the opportunity.

Incentives and oversight are crucial at this stage because of the predictable growth in an industry that already provides more jobs than the coal industry (which is reducing its labor force).

"The industry (wind) employs 75,000 Americans," said AWEA board chief, Ned Hall, "Who work for more than 2,500 companies."

Wind energy requires local operation and maintenance jobs for each constructed turbine. Work as varied as turbine component manufacturing, concrete foundation creation, turbine transportation and erection, specialty equipment operation, technical maintenance and other professions are required to support wind energy generation.

During the convention, Siemens USA announced that it is building two facilities for tooling and spare parts in Woodward, Okla. With 64,000 sq. ft. of facilities, Siemens will eventually employ 40 "green collar" workers in parts support alone.

Also at the convention, Vela Gear Systems CEO said the company is approaching final approvals to build a new, LEED-certified wind turbine manufacturing facility in Marion, Ind.

"During the building stage we anticipate creating 70 construction jobs, and we will ramp up operations to have 200 permanent high-wage high-skilled machinists," says Noel Davis, founder and president of Veal Gear Systems.

Most turbines and related parts are created outside the U.S., but Davis believes local wind energy manufacturing can compete with foreign turbine manufacturing and can be a sustainable source of job growth.

In the first quarter of 2011, 1.1 GW of U.S. projects were completed and 5.6 GW were contracted and underway, according to the AWEA.

"These first-quarter figures indicate an industry poised for a renaissance," says Denise Bode, AWEA's chief executive. "Refined technologies, affordable prices and continued demand for clean, homegrown energy – these are all reasons why wind has consistently posted strong growth numbers, adding 35% of all new generating capacity since 2007."

To keep up on construction and education activities related to wind energy generation, visit the AWEA web site which lists upcoming projects, seminars and conferences.

A U.S. Department of Energy animated graph shows U.S. wind energy construction from 1999 to 2010.

Paul Wingate is vice president of financing at Harley Stanfield LLC.