Government study finds wind power boosting income, jobs in Great Plains and Rockies

Source: Christa Marshall, E&E reporter • Posted: Thursday, October 4, 2012

Wind power installed in the Great Plains and Rocky Mountain region boosted personal income and employment in those areas in the past decade, according to a new study from researchers at three national laboratories and the Department of Agriculture.

Specifically, wind increased the annual personal income of counties in the region on average by about $11,000 per megawatt and raised county-level employment by 0.5 job per megawatt between 2000 and 2008, according to the analysis. That translates to a median county-level increase of 0.2 percent in personal income and a 0.4 percent rise in employment.

“Past studies have provided notable insights into potential economic development impacts at the state and local levels from the construction and operational phases of wind power projects. However, much of this work has been based on hypothetical or proposed projects,” the Department of Energy said in a release.

Instead, the new study, which was also published in Energy Economics, focused on actual wind installments and economic data in 1,009 counties in 13 wind-rich states stretching from North Dakota to Texas.

The research considered everything from poverty levels to population growth in counties to try to discern how much employment and income trends between 2000 and 2008 derived solely from wind generation, said Ryan Wiser, a scientist at the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory and a study co-author.

Measuring ‘net benefits’

Prior studies typically relied on self-reported data from companies or did not measure the “net” benefits of wind by also considering negative impacts such as displacement of other local energy sources from windmills, the researchers said

“These analyses have proven controversial,” Wiser said.

The current study attempts to calculate a net figure for wind by weighing benefits — such as rents paid by wind developers to landowners — versus economic downsides such as loss of income from retiring agriculture production for wind farms.

Nonetheless, the new study’s numbers mirror many prior models that found a benefit to income of $5,000 to $18,000 per megawatt, according to the study.

While the new analysis does calculate the net benefits of wind, it does so at the county level and does not make national assumptions, according to Wiser. If nonwind counties outside the study area are losing or gaining jobs because of wind in wind counties, “this is not accounted for,” Wiser said.

Researchers from Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, the National Renewable Energy Laboratory and the Economic Research Service at the Department of Agriculture participated in the study.