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    Every Two Megawatts of Wind Power in Your County Create One Job and Make You $20,000 Richer

    Written by

    Brian Merchant

    Senior Editor

    Robots are obviously going to steal your job, for better or for worse. Sorry. And IT companies like Facebook and Google aren't going to bring them back--but wind farms might. Renewable energy sources, like solar panels and wind turbines, are all but certain to be one of the primo job-creating economic engines in coming years, which is partly why any sane nation with an R&D budget is dropping cash into clean power like the fate of the planet depended on it or something.

    We already had plenty of data pointing to the economic benefit of clean energy--last year, Bloomberg reported that the average wind farm grew 1,100 jobs, for instance. Now the U.S. Department of Energy, collaborating with the U.S.D.A., has just released the results (pdf) of the first long-term empirical study on the economic impacts of wind development, and the results are also encouraging.

    The report's abstract explains:

    The DOE-USDA study examined data from actual wind installations across nearly 130 counties and 12 states between 2000 and 2008. Findings from the study indicated that, on average, wind energy development in this region and timeframe increased county-level annual personal income by approximately $11,000 and employment by 0.5 jobs per megawatt of installed capacity.

    In other words, for every two megawatts of capacity installed (enough to power around 500-1,000 homes), wind farms create one permanent job and add an additional $20,000 (or more) in wealth per person in a county that saw wind power development, the report found. 

    Remember, the findings were correlate to a specific time period, over most of the 00s--the economic impact is likely to be different for the next eight years. Still, in some states, incentives for clean energy projects like wind got even better after 2008, and wind production has certainly increased since then. So the benefits may be even more pronounced now; then again, they may fade in the future. Regardless, this report is the most detailed look yet at the economic value of wind on a county level. And here's where wind was the biggest boon over the last decade:

    And, unlike fossil fuels extraction projects, where jobs are more arguably more plentiful, clean energy projects are less subject to boom and bust cycles. Yeah, more jobs are needed to build the turbines in the first place, but a static and predictable number of technicians and maintenance workers stick around afterward, and the lessees that power companies pay to keep turbines on their land benefit continually. When the oil and gas dries up somewhere like North Dakota, on the other hand, we're going to see some serious fracking ghost towns. Also, with wind and solar, the landscape isn't left a smoldering toxic mess, so there's that.

    Furthermore, we need wind and solar almost everywhere it's viable--we need wind farms from Maine to Texas and everywhere in between. Any county can benefit, not just those (un)fortunate enough to sit atop the Marcellus Shale. Finally, switching from coal and gas to renewable sources means additional, harder-to-spot economic benefits, too. As coal plants shut down, that means billions of dollars in health cost savings--less asthma, less respiratory illness, less cancer.

    Wind may still be more expensive to build than other forms of energy, but with an eye to the future, it's clearly the smarter investment.