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Posts Tagged ‘coal industry’

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photo: Solar Power International

I spent the week at the Solar Power International conference in Anaheim, Calif., where some 22,000 people gathered for the industry’s biggest get-together in the United States. As I wrote in The New York Times, solar industry leaders are taking an aggressive new approach to pushing their agenda:

A solar industry leader smacked down the oil and coal industries on Tuesday, calling for renewable energy proponents to open their wallets to level the playing field in Washington.

“The full promise of solar power is being restrained by the tyranny of policies that protect our competitors, subsidize wealthy polluters and disadvantage green entrepreneurs,” said Rhone Resch, chief executive of the Solar Energy Industries Association, according to prepared remarks for a speech he is to give at the opening of the Solar Power International conference.

The event, being held in Anaheim, Calif., is the solar industry’s biggest annual get-together in the United States, and is usually a celebration of the industry’s breakneck growth of recent years.

But Mr. Resch said that with the fossil fuel industry devoting tens of millions of dollars to defeat climate change legislation now before Congress, the solar industry needs to start throwing its weight around Washington.

You can read the rest of the story here.

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photo: Todd Woody

When Green Wombat offered up as a “talking point” the observation that the wind industry now employs more people than coal mining, the post set off some vociferous chatter in the blogosphere, fueled in part by my inadvertent error of referring to the “coal industry” in a subsequent reference rather than “coal mining.”

Eoin O’Carroll at the The Christian Science Monitor‘s Bright Green Blog called the comparison between 85,000 wind industry jobs and 81,000 coal mining jobs “bogus,” citing sources pegging direct industry-wide employment in coal at 136,000 to 174,000. Other commentators pointed out that wind power currently provides only about 1-2% of the United States’ electricity while coal supplies around 49%, according to the U.S. Department of Energy.

Fair enough. But let’s add some context. As Salon‘s Andrew Leonard pointed out, “The key takeaway shouldn’t be employment, but growth rates.” Employment in the wind industry grew 70% between 2007 and 2008 as a result of a 50% jump in the amount of installed wind capacity in the United States last year. And this number bears repeating: 42% of all new U.S. electricity generation in 2008 came from wind farms, the equivalent of building 14 600-megawatt coal-fired power plants  – without the environmental devastation that comes from strip-mining and releasing tons of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. That extraordinary growth in wind power was, until the recession hit, reviving abandoned factories in the industrial Midwest as European turbine makers and their suppliers set up shop close to what has become the world’s largest wind market.

While wind produces a tiny percentage of the country’s total electricity today, the U.S. does not have a national power grid and energy generation varies widely by state. (For instance, in-state coal-fired power plants supplied 86% of Ohio’s electricity in 2006, according to the Energy Department, but only 1.1% of California’s – though the Golden State obtains about 20% of its electricity from out-of-state coal plants, a practice being phased out by its global warming law).

In Texas, wind accounts for 4.9% of the state’s electricity generation, according to the state grid operator.  Last week, Texas regulators announced they would invest $5 billion to expand transmission lines to bring wind power from remote west Texas wind farms to big cities like Dallas and Houston. That $5 billion, no doubt, will also generate quite a few green jobs and trigger even more wind development once the credit crunch eases.

Jon Wellinghoff, the new acting chairman of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, has identified the Great Plains – dubbed the Saudi Arabia of wind – as the prime candidate for a massive power grid project to connect the region’s wind farms to metropolitan regions currently dependent on coal-fired power. Again, such an initiative would generate thousands of jobs. (A 2008 Department of Energy report found that if such transmission hurdles were overcome the nation could obtain as much as 20% of its electricity from wind farms.)

Obviously, coal is not going away any time soon. (And those wind turbines are made of steel, after all.) But with the Obama administration willing to spend billions on a smart power grid to expand green energy production and half the states mandating renewable energy targets – not to mention a looming national cap-and-trade system that would assign a price to the environmental cost of coal-fired electricity – it seems clear which industry will be generating the jobs of the future.

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photo: Todd Woody

Here’s a talking point in the green jobs debate: The wind industry now employs more people than coal mining in the United States.

Wind industry jobs jumped to 85,000 in 2008, a 70% increase from the previous year, according to a report released Tuesday from the American Wind Energy Association. In contrast, the coal industry mining employs about 81,000 workers. (Those figures are from a 2007 U.S. Department of Energy report but coal employment has remained steady in recent years though it’s down by nearly 50% since 1986.) Wind industry employment includes 13,000 manufacturing jobs concentrated in regions of the country hard hit by the deindustrialization of the past two decades.

The big spike in wind jobs was a result of a record-setting 50% increase in installed wind capacity, with 8,358 megawatts coming online in 2008 (enough to power some 2 million homes).  That’s a third of the nation’s total 25,170 megawatts of wind power generation. Wind farms generating more than 4,000 megawatts of electricity were completed in the last three months of 2008 alone.

Another sign that wind power is no longer a niche green energy play: Wind accounted for 42% of all new electricity generation installed last year in the U.S. Power, literally, is shifting from the east to west, to the wind belt of the Midwest, west Texas and the West Coast. Texas continues to lead the country, with 7,116 megawatts of wind capacity but Iowa in 2008 overtook California for the No. 2 spot, with 2,790 megawatts of wind generation. Other new wind powers include Oregon, Minnesota, Colorado and Washington state.

But last year’s record is unlikely to be repeated in 2009 as the global credit crisis delays or scuttles new projects because developers are unable to secure financing for wind farms. Layoffs have already hit turbine makers like Clipper Windpower and Gamesa as well as companies that produce turbine towers, blades and other components.

The Obama administration’s $825 billion stimulus package includes a three-year extension of a key production tax credit that has spurred the wind industry’s expansion. But given the dearth of investors with tax liabilities willing to invest in wind projects in exchange for the credits, the stimulus is unlikely to be stimulating to the industry unless the tax credit is made refundable to developers.

The U.S. wind industry is dominated by European wind developers and turbine makers – General Electric (GE) and Clipper are the only two domestic turbine manufacturers – and those companies’ fortunes rise and fall with the global economy.  As the U.S. market has boomed, European companies have been moving production close to their customers – the percentage of domestically manufactured wind turbine components rose from 30% to 50% between 2005 and 2008, according to the American Wind Energy Association.

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