Wind Energy is Growth is Accelerating

Quietly, persistently, and completely imperceptibly to folks who don’t drive the nation’s flatlands often, wind power has become a significant force. Wind energy supplied 4.7 percent of the total electricity generated in the U.S. in 2015, according to the Global Wind Energy Council and the U.S. Energy Information Administration. And in 12 states (including Maine, Colorado and North Dakota), 10 percent or more of the state’s electric power generated comes from wind power (Iowa leads with 31 percent).

Sprawling chains of wind farms—some covering hundreds of acres, some consisting of a few dozen wind turbines—have sprung up in large numbers, turning a perpetually renewable resource into an industry that’s significantly reducing the nation’s reliance on fossil fuels.

There are now more than 53,000 utility-scale wind turbines operating in 41 states plus Guam and Puerto Rico, according to the American Wind Energy Association, and they are producing power sufficient to fill the energy needs of 25 million homes.

Although wind power has been used for centuries (to pump water and to power simple machines and milling operations, for example), not until 1887 was a windmill used to produce electricity—in Scotland first, and a few months later in Cleveland. Both were for private use. For the next several decades, wind power was primarily a single-use application on farms and ranches and for small business power backup. In the 1970s, when concern about reliance on foreign sources of fuel escalated, a concerted effort to press forward the potential of wind power began. The U.S. government partnered with a nascent industry (which had been serving mostly back-to-the-land groups) to develop turbines appropriate for large-scale commercial use.

Now miles of sleek, tall towers and spinning blades dot the rural landscape. In fact, eight of the largest wind farms in the world are in this country, five of them in Texas. Other states that are producing a great deal of wind power are California, Iowa, Oklahoma, Illinois, Kansas, Minnesota, Oregon, Colorado, Washington, North Dakota, and Wyoming.

Wind employment increased by 32 percent in 2016, employing more than 100,000 workers, and experts from all arenas believe this trajectory will continue.

The American Wind Energy Association is predicting that this low-cost, zero-emission energy will be supplying 20 percent of U.S. electricity by 2030. And because of the strong domestic supply chain, the U.S, Department of Energy (DOE), in its “Wind Vision Report,” noted that wind has the potential to support more than 600,000 U.S. jobs in manufacturing, installation, maintenance and supporting services by 2050.

This number, some might argue, is a relatively small workforce compared to some other industries. But employment potential is not the only upside of harnessing this energy source. Wind energy reduces air pollution, preserves the water resources that would be used by the electric power sector, and increases community revenues, the DOE report notes.

These are among the factors that motivate those of us at Renewable Energy Consulting Services (RECS) to help bring wind power projects to fruition.

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Renewable Energy is Adding Jobs 12 Faster Than the Rest of the Economy

A great deal of misinformation is floating about regarding just how important leading-edge energy technologies are to our economy.

The fact is, a new energy infrastructure has emerged in the United States, and the U.S. is now, by every international measure, the world leader in energy innovation. That means recently developed and currently emerging technologies are—and will continue to be—extremely important.

According to the U.S. Department of Energy’s (DOE’s) 2017 U.S. Energy and Employment Report, jobs in the renewable energy sector—which includes solar and wind technologies, plus hydrogen, biofuel, fuel cells, and energy-conserving technologies—grew by 18 percent between the second quarter of 2015 and the first quarter of 2016. Renewable energy technologies are now providing direct employment for 3.38 million Americans (compared to the fossil fuel industry, which provides jobs for 2.89 million people).

Even more notable, according to the DOE, the renewable energy industry is adding jobs 12 times faster than the rest of the economy even as the fossil fuel industry is losing jobs (in the years between 2012 and 2015, that industry experienced a job reduction of 4.5 percent).

The solar workforce increased by 25 percent last year and wind employment increased by 32 percent. As of 2016, about 374,000 worked for solar firms and 102,000 had jobs at wind firms across the country. And the financial commitment is huge: the wind industry’s investment in wind projects in recent years amounts to $143 billion, according to the American Wind Energy Association.

Virtually all experts are predicting these technologies will continue to grow—expanding their bases and employing more people—as each becomes more affordable and accessible.

All this growth in innovative clean energy fields during the last 10 to 15 years has resulted in 41 states now having more jobs in renewable energy technologies than in fossil fuels.

As attention in Washington focuses now on stimulating job creation and growth in the fossil fuel industries, those efforts should not come at the expense of the momentum that has been building in recent years in the energy growth areas.

Four of the budget bills introduced in the past few weeks Congress — House bill H.R. 3266 and Senate bill S. 1609 which set forth the 2018 fiscal year budget for the U.S. Department of Agriculture, and H.R. 3268 and S. 1603 which detail the FY2018 budget for the DOE – propose the elimination of all programs supporting renewable energy and energy innovation.

We at Renewable Energy Consulting Services (RECS) believe that would be an unfortunate development for the well-being of our planet and our national economy.

Renewable Energy Programs Are Being Eliminated in the 2018 Federal Budget

 

capitol-sunset-hdr-5-pixRenewable Energy Programs Are Being Eliminated in the 2018 Federal Budget

Three federal loan guarantee programs that have helped advance hundreds of innovative energy projects in recent years are on the chopping block. This is a troubling development for those who believe the U.S. should be moving ever faster toward finding alternative energy sources, not creating barriers.

Bills introduced in July in the U.S. House of Representatives and Senate eliminated the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) Title 17 Loan Guarantee Program (House bill H.R. 3266 and Senate bill S. 1609). Also, funding for the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Rural Business Service (RBS) and its Sections 9003 and 9007 loan guarantee programs will be wiped out if H.R. 3268 and S. 1603 pass as currently framed. The Title 17 and Section 9003 funding programs have long been regarded as critical to spurring new energy ideas into being since conventional bank loans are rarely granted to first-of-a-kind projects because of the risk they will fail or not operate properly the first time they are deployed.

The Section 9007 program provides support to rural communities, businesses and farmers to install renewable energy and energy efficiency systems to reduce energy costs.

The DOE Title 17 Loan Guarantee Program was created by Congress in 2005 to remove the obstacles in obtaining loans for the first commercial deployments of American energy project by establishing a $40 billion revolving loan fund.  The bills would do away with the $17 million it costs annually to administer that fund. Some elected officials are suggesting that because Senate bill S. 1609 includes a $40 million increase in funding over the past two years for DOE’s Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy (ARPA-E), transformational energy projects will continue to emerge. However, without the path to commercialization that the loan guarantee program has provided, many cutting-edge ideas can never come to fruition.

Even worse, there are more than $41 billion in capital projects under review that will create 75,000 jobs that would be stopped in their tracks if these bills become law.

As for the USDA programs: 17 projects are now in Phase 2 of review for Section 9003 loan guarantees that total $1.3 billion.  The projects being reviewed originate in 11 states across the U.S.—from Florida to Hawaii and from Georgia to Oregon.  Moreover, there are 781 grant applications for Section 9007 Renewable Energy for America Program (REAP) grants, totaling $53.2 million, and 823 applications for guaranteed loan applications totaling $11.6 million. The individuals and companies that have applied for a USDA grant or a loan represent most of the 50 states.

Any reduction or cessation in funding for these important loan guarantees or grants from DOE and USDA will almost certainly create a barrier sufficiently intractable that many good ideas will not be able to take flight in the foreseeable future. Moreover, many job-creating projects currently under review would be brought to a halt.

If you want  to weigh in on this matter with your elected officials—and timing is urgent because Congress begins its August recess soon—you can find the phone number of your senators or      representatives at https://www.senate.gov/general/contact_information/senators_cfm.cfm or https://www.house.gov/representatives/.

Although it might seem an outdated approach in these times of electronic communication, experts say it’s more impactful if you call rather than email or text, even if you’re routed to voicemail.