More than 100,000 Americans now work in the wind industry, which is adding jobs much more rapidly than the economy as a whole, according to new data released Wednesday.
“We are hiring at a nine times faster rate than the average industry in the country,” Tom Kiernan, CEO of the American Wind Energy Association (AWEA), a trade group, said at a press conference for the release of the group’s Annual Market Report.
Kiernan attributed the strong growth to wind’s increasing efficiency, decreasing costs, and reliability, but also to the extension of the production tax credit, a federal program that was extended at the end of 2015, offering what Kiernan called “clarity and certainty” to the wind market.
According to the report, 2016 was the second year in a row that more than 8,000 megawatts (MW) of wind capacity was added to the grid. There is now 82,000 MW of total wind capacity in the country, making it the largest source of non-fossil fuel generation for the first time.
Kiernan announced the findings in Minnesota, which has 20 factories for wind turbines and parts. Overall, the Midwest has driven a historic investment in wind energy: Kiernan noted that there has been $28 billion invested in wind in the upper Midwest, where 26 percent of the electricity comes from wind.
The renewable energy sector as a whole is booming, with both wind and solar showing impressive gains over the past few years. From 2015 to 2016, solar nearly doubled the amount of capacity installed, and there are now more people working in renewable energy than in fossil fuels in nearly every state in the country.
Meanwhile, the federal government under President Donald Trump has taken steps to prop up the coal industry, including re-opening a loophole that allows the coal industry to short taxpayers hundreds of millions of dollars annually in royalty payments.
Renewable energy advocates have long said that tax credits are an important way to prioritize clean energy development — allowing what Kiernan admitted is a “young industry” to make headway into a complicated, entrenched market. Coal, oil, and gas operations have enjoyed tax credits and write-offs for over a century, with the understanding that energy exploration was expensive and uncertain, but important to American interests.
Kiernan pointed to the wind industry’s acceptance of a five-year step-down process for the federal tax credit as an example to other industries.
“We are calling on all source of energy to tax reform themselves and [level] the playing field,” Kiernan said.
Ironically, this week the governor of Oklahoma signed a bill that will phase out state-level tax credits for wind in July. Those incentives had been scheduled to step-down through 2021.