Bring Wind to the US

Bring Wind to the US

Mike Atwood, Ben Katz, Eric Swennes

NATSCI 397

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December, 2007. This marked the beginning of the worst financial crisis that the US has[NS1]  faced since the Great Depression: the Great Recession. In December of 2007 the national unemployment rate was 5.0%. By the end of the recession, June 2009, it was at 9.5% and eventually reached a peak in October 2009 at 10.0%. Much of this unemployment was prevalent in the manufacturing industry, losing 10.0% of the manufacturing jobs available (“BLS Spotlight,” [E2] 2012). Specifically, this manufacturing turmoil was focused in Detroit, the epicenter of the U.S. automotive industry. Detroit’s major automotive companies, GM, Ford, and Chrysler, were on the edge of bankruptcy with nothing to save them but a government bailout. The government hoped that giving these companies bailout money would jump start them back into production and continue the growth of the industry. Unfortunately, this plan did not bring Detroit back to its former glory. Since the bailout, Detroit declared bankruptcy. Their economy did not get the necessary boost that the government bailout was supposed to give. The car industry in Detroit was not enough to generate the manufacturing jobs that Detroit leaned so heavily on in the past. There needs to be another plan of action to help Detroit pick itself up and become the booming metropolis it once was. That plan still lies in the original backbone of this country, manufacturing.

Manufacturing has always been a crucial element to the US economy. According to Michael Ettlinger and Kate Gordon (2011) in their article, The Importance and Promise of American Manufacturing, manufacturing is a key element of economic prosperity:

Manufacturing is critically important to the American economy. For generations, the strength of our country rested on the power of our factory floors both the machines and the men and women who worked them. We need manufacturing to continue to be a bedrock of strength for generations to come. Manufacturing is woven into the structure of our economy: Its importance goes far beyond what happens behind the factory gates. The strength or weakness of American manufacturing carries implications for the entire economy, our national security, and the well-being of all Americans. (p.7)

Manufacturing contributes approximately 12% of today’s US economy (Ettlinger & Gordon, 2011). This percentage could easily be higher with more manufacturing opportunities. Bringing the production and manufacturing of wind energy technologies to the US will increase manufacturing’s contribution to the economy, provide much needed jobs to a struggling middle class, and bring Detroit back to the manufacturing giant it once was. According to The Congressional Digest (2013): The American Wind Energy Association (AWEA), reported an estimated 30,000 Americans were employed directly and indirectly in wind turbine manufacturing in 2011, compared to 2,500 in 2004. In order to make more of these jobs available, it is important to bring wind turbine manufacturers to the US. The question is: how can this happen? To start off, the government must give tax incentives to those companies who manufacture wind turbines within the US. This it will encourage others (foreign companies, entrepreneurs, etc.) to do the same and will begin a boom in manufacturing. Furthermore, companies within the US who currently have great manufacturing capabilities, such as GM, Ford and Chrysler, would be encouraged to incorporate the production of wind turbines into their business, a great option that Van Jones, an environmental advocate, thought up. By implementing these actions, this nation has a chance to bring itself back to the manufacturing giant it once was, all while producing a clean, free source of energy.

The expansion of wind energy creation and production in the United States will dramatically reverse our economic downturn. Wind turbine manufacturing can create an economic upturn for both industrial manufacturing sectors and rural communities in America. Too many Americans live in smaller, poorer quality homes because they have lost their jobs to outsourcing and technology imports. Why should we, as extremely smart and talented Americans, continue to be dependent on foreign sources of energy and power? The obvious economic benefits of manufacturing wind turbines domestically are too great to still believe that wind energy is a distant future resource. In Humes’ (2013) article, “Anywhere it blows”, posted in The Sierra, he argues that wind energy will benefit the U.S. economy. Humes claims that wind energy is a cheap renewable energy source compared to the other expensive sources that we have in place today. Heating oil prices in the United States continue to rise every year and keeps Americans dependent on foreign sources. Creating wind farms throughout the country will enable America to use the constant supply of wind electricity to eliminate the need for heating oil. Even though we only have a few wind farms “At four cents a Kilowatt-hour, [wind energy is] some of the cheapest electricity in the country, costing less than half of last years national average for all electricity sources, coal and gas included” (Humes (2013), p.32). Wind energy can create a drop in cost for Americans who struggle every year with increasing costs but no additional benefits[E3] .

These increasing heating and energy bills can be significantly decreased with the domestic manufacturing of wind turbines. Manufacturing wind turbines, with the hard work and quality advantages that Americans provide, will create a society and an economy that is driven from our brick and mortar beginnings[E4] . Americans can use the skill, labor and technology of places like the General Motors manufacturing plants to divert their focus to making wind turbines[E5] . The wind manufacturing industry, as small as it is, is quite significant in size already. There are 75,000 Americans employed full time by the wind industry and 7% of wind equipment used in the U.S. is manufactured in the country (Humes, 2013). One can see the opportunity for job growth in the wind energy industry with its already impressive economy. All the US needs to do is cash in on this opportunity.

Job creation and continued employment is a staggering task to combat in todays economy. Americans need jobs that will bring home a solid salary and that will utilize the skills that many already possess. A Texas case study shows the direct economic benefits that wind energy has on a local economy. In the online article “State and Local Economies Impacts from Wind Energy Projects: Texas case study”, Johnson, Lantz and Slattery (2011) say that wind energy production and usage in Texas has a direct correlation to an increase in salaries and economic growth. Wind energy can certainly sustain a long, profitable and stable economy. During the four-year construction phase of a wind farm, approximately 4100 FTE (full time equivalent) jobs became available, with turbine and supply chain impacts accounting for 58% of all jobs generated. The total lifetime economic activity to the state from the projects equated to more than $1.8 billion, or $1.3 million per MW of installed capacity (Johnson, 2011). The jobs that wind energy can create in a small setting shows how many people are needed to create and maintain these large pieces of equipment. These FTE jobs also create a need for other resources that require different employment needs as well. The indirect jobs created with wind turbine manufacturing and maintenance are in industries like concrete, gravel, soil, equipment operators, technicians, mechanics, fuel delivery, everything that is needed to make wind energy possible. [E6] Such a large industry as wind energy not only maintains stable jobs like the manufacturing and maintenance aspect, but also creates needs for other industries.

Economic upturn is even more important in rural areas of the U.S. Their remote locations with little economic activity sometimes barely hang on from year to year. Wind farms in rural areas directly employ engineers, maintenance staff and the other indirect industries listed before. Wind farms are built where wind resources are highest, typically in rural areas and far from electrical loads (Johnson, 2011). Wind energy creates the opportunity for large new investments in rural communities across the U.S. In terms of jobs, one 100 megawatt wind plant is likely to support an average of 80-100 construction workers on-site for a period of one year during construction and 6-8 on site operations and maintenance workers annually throughout the life of the plant (NREL Database). Wind energy will almost exclusively be erected in rural areas that have a substantial amount of land due to the need for large turbines and large quantity of them. Wind turbine manufacturing and maintenance will directly improve the struggling rural communities of the interior U.S.; “The 63 people hired on-site to permanently manage and operate the facilities generate approximately $3.6 million in earnings annually equivalent to an average salary (and benefits) of $58,000 per job” (Johnson, 2011[E7] ). As of the latest data from the National Average Wage Index, the average American salary for 2012 is $44,32.67 (Social Security,2012). The average salary created from a small wind energy project in Texas is over $10,000 more per year than our national average. Wind energy will increase our nations salaries and give our middle class the strength they need to feel confident again.

There are many people who believe that wind energy is not the correct way to go. There are some that believe that wind energy is too expensive to make our major source of electricity. The Honorable Mike Pompeo, a United States Representative, is a proponent of this thought. He thinks that the US government already is spending too much money on helping the wind energy industry try to establish themselves in the US. In an article in Congressional Digest, Pompeo (2013) claims that if the tax credits the wind industry receives was were applied to the oil industry, it would be the equivalent of the government giving $30 for every barrel of oil produced. This is a fair representation of how the tax credits work, but it is a very unfair comparison. The oil industry is completely incorporated into everyday life. They are not going anywhere. The wind industry, on the other hand, is a fairly new innovation. There are many one time costs associated with trying to create a new energy source and the government is here to help with that. When the oil industry first started, it was in a similar situation to the wind industry today. The government stepped in and helped out in the form of subsidies. Adjusting for inflation, the government gave oil and gas companies $1.8 billion per year for 15 years (Browning, 2012). Now the oil industry is an entirely self-supporting and profitable business. That is the government’s job: to help industries that will be integral in our society come into being. Representative Pompeo believes that the wind industry is not worth it. He states that “the ‘green energy’ 1603 grant program has given away $4.3 billion to 36 wind farms just since 2008. All together these farms now employ 300 people. That’s $14 million per job” (Pompeo, 2013, p. 21). This is certainly a large amount of money for each job. However, it is again disregarding the cost of start up. Wind energy is an investment that needs to be fed enough money to make it happen. This upfront cost is high, but the potential rewards are enormous.

Another common argument is that wind energy simply does not have the capability to power the country, which is a false claim. The US does consume a very large amount of electricity per year. Conveniently enough, wind turbines can generate more than the necessary amount of electricity for the country. A 1 megawatt wind turbine can generate sufficient electricity for the annual consumption of 250 homes (Culture Change, 2013). This is just one single turbine. An entire wind farm has an unbelievable output potential. Pulitzer Prize winner Edward Humes discusses this potential wind energy. He points out that, according to the National Renewable Energy Laboratory, there is enough windy landscape in the US to produce the 4.1 million gigawatt-hours that the US generated in 2011 nine fold. Clearly the thought that wind turbines do not have enough potential to power the US’s electricity needs is only a myth and there are many locations in this country which have the potential to supply the nation’s energy needs.

One of these locations is in the small town of Peetz, Colorado. Peetz is currently the home to 300 wind turbines, 33 owned by NEG Micon, a Danish company, and the rest owned by General Electric. Each day these wind turbines churn away, producing enough power to fuel the annual consumption of approximately 107,500 homes. On a trip to Sterling, Colorado, Michael Atwood had the opportunity to see these innovative machines at work. As he stood upon a hill viewing the hundreds of turbines in the distance he could feel a slight breeze at his back. In that moment he noticed something. That this slight breeze was supplying each turbine with the “fuel” source necessary to turn their blades and it was all free. “That’s the moment I realized this could actually work. Wind Energy has the ability to provide power, and yet still preserve the exact land it sits upon. Its something I will never forget” (Atwood). Take a moment to absorb this image into your mind, a nation solely powered by the wind that rolls over its hills. By bringing the production of wind energy technologies to the U.S., it will provide a vital economic and domestic manufacturing boost to a nation in need. However, it can only be done through the support and aid of the government. So as Americans, we need to support this upcoming technology that has the potential to create new jobs, fuel our economy, preserve our world, and bring this nation into a whole new era.

 

 

 

 

Sources

Bureau of Labor Statistics. (2012, February). The recession of 2007-2009. Retrieved from            http://www.bls.gov/spotlight/2012/recession/pdf/recession_bls_spotlight.pdf

 

Browning, W. (2012, March 29). History of U.S. oil subsidies go back nearly a century. Yahoo.         Retrieved from http://news.yahoo.com/history-u-oil-subsidies-back-nearly-century-          215500548.html

 

Congressional Digest. (2013, February). U.S. wind industry. Wind turbine manufacturing    andgovernment support. Congressional Digest, 92(2), 3-32. Retrieved from          Academic Search Premier.

 

Ettlinger, M. and Gordon, K. (2011, April). The importance and promise of American manufacturing. Center for American Progress. Retrieved from             http://www.americanprogress.org/issues/labor/report/2011/04/07/9427/the-       importance-and-promise-of-american-manufacturing/

 

Humes, E. (2013, March/April). Anywhere it blows. Sierra. Vol. 98 (2), 30-38. Retrieved         from Academic Search Premier.

 

Johnson, B. Lantz and E. Slattery, M. (2011) State and local economic impacts from wind     energy projects: Texas case study. Vol. 39(12), 7930-7940. Retrieved from the      Academic SearchPremier

 

Pompeo, M. (2013). Should Congress extend the production tax credit for wind energy?        CON.            Congressional Digest, 92(2), 19-23. Retrieved from Academic Search Premier.

 

Social Security. (2013, November 24). National average wage. Retrieved from http://ssa.gov

 

AWEA. Culture Change. (1988). Wind energy costs. Retrieved from            http://www.culturechange.org/wind.htm

 

National Renewable Energy Laboratory. (2012). U.S. Life Cycle Inventory Database.            Retrieved from https://www.lcacommons.gov/nrel/search

Evan

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