In this job, I talk to a lot of people. Recently, I’ve gotten a lot of questions about whether the new presidential administration and the 115th Congress could somehow put an end to the U.S. wind industry’s continued progress. We believe that won’t happen and that the opposite could be true: Wind power can help this new administration implement its vision for rural and Rust Belt Americans in a big way.
American manufacturing has struggled for decades. Towns hollowed out as industries shipped jobs overseas, leaving gaps in vitality communities that are still struggling to fill them. Analysts report this helped drive election outcomes in November. However, people often don’t know how many thousands of manufacturing jobs wind has already brought back home – and how many more we can bring still.
Today, 21,000 Americans build wind turbines and parts for them at over 500 factories. These opportunities span a massive supply chain. U.S. workers make nuts and bolts and high-tech turbine blades, tapping into old-fashioned craftsmanship and boundary-pushing methods such as 3-D printing.
Many of these jobs give towns a second chance after previous employers packed up and left.
For example, Maytag once employed more than one in five Newton, Iowa, residents. Newton was the “Washing Machine Capital of the World.” But in 2007, the company shut its plant’s doors for good.
Fortunately, Iowa’s early commitment to a state renewable portfolio standard, and big utilities’ and companies’ thirst for wind energy, meant a speedy recovery for Newton. Boat builder TPI Composites got into making wind blades and opened a new factory in town, creating hundreds of jobs. It’s now running three shifts. Trinity Structural Towers, another member of the wind turbine supply chain, refurbished and occupied part of the old Maytag plant.
“It’s almost like hitting the lottery,” says Chaz Allen, former Newton mayor and current Iowa state senator. “These companies have stepped up and hired up to a thousand people between the two companies.”
That means a lot in a town of just 15,000 people.
Other towns have similar stories. Vestas employs thousands of Coloradans at three different factories. Gearbox Express, a Wisconsin-based company I visited last year, doubled its workforce in recent years and opened a 75,000-square-foot factory last May. Factories in 43 states now build turbine parts, meaning you can find similar stories from sea to shining sea.
U.S. manufacturing isn’t the only part of the economy getting a shot in the arm. New wind farm construction drives investment into rural communities like few other industries. Over the past decade, wind attracted $128 billion of private investment. Virtually all turbines were installed in rural communities – 70% in low-income counties. The investment tends to go straight to the areas that need it the most.
Last year, farmers and ranchers received over $222 million in lease payments for hosting turbines on their land. They can count on stable income when commodity prices fluctuate or weather hurts the harvest. That’s why some observers have dubbed wind the “new corn” and a “drought-proof cash crop.”
“We actually went through a period of almost 10 years where rain was almost nonexistent,” says Twane Reker, who farms in Peetz, Colo. “These [turbines] actually did benefit us quite a bit.”
The whole town benefits from wind farm revenue, not just landowners. The Lincolnview, Ohio, school district gave every student, K through 12, a new computer. In New York, the town of Sheldon eliminated local taxes for eight years after its wind farm came online because the money it paid the town simply made taxes unnecessary. Counties use wind proceeds to fix roads, buy fire trucks and ambulances, and pay teachers.
Well-paying jobs offer communities spin-off benefits. “Wind turbine technician” is the country’s fastest-growing job, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. Few rural jobs pay as well as those operating and maintaining wind farms. More young people can find opportunities close to home.
Updating America’s electricity grid and adding new transmission will help wind power fully deliver on its potential. The latest reports show the new team can save Americans $2.3 billion a year just by backing four transmission lines out West.
Many campaign pledges entailed bringing back American manufacturing and ensuring a future of economic opportunity. American wind power does just that in a way few other industries can rival. That’s why our future remains bright, and we look forward, as always, to helping America’s leaders deliver on these pledges.
Tom Kiernan is CEO at the American Wind Energy Association. He can be reached at email@example.com.