Wind energy drives more than just turbines

Source: By Rebecca Maitland, Houston Chronicle • Posted: Friday, March 15, 2013

Wind energy is the fastest-growing source of electricity production globally, and in the U.S., Texas ranks No. 1 for wind energy capacity. If Texas were a country, it would be sixth in the world.

Presently, Texas has 12,000 megawatts installed, which signifies a $20 billion investment in the state and creates jobs, said Elizabeth A. Salerno, director, Industry Data and Analysis, American Wind Energy Association.

“One megawatt can power 300 homes. One gigawatt can power 300,000 homes, and 12 gigawatts can power 3,600,000 homes. What many people do not understand is wind is a real power industry, and it is growing,” said Matt Guyette, chief marketing and strategy officer, GE Renewable Energy.

One indicator the industry is growing is the continual number of member companies joining the American Wind Energy Association, which today is close to 1,500.

“Ten years ago, there were less than 2,000 turbines, and today there are over 20,000. These are not your father’s turbines. These are efficient and are driving down the cost of electricity,” Guyette said.

The wind industry also is good for Texas, good for Houston.

“Wind farms are usually in rural, open land, and are private leases from land owners. We lease the land, and property owners receive annual lease payments, and property taxes also flow into these areas. Also, the land the turbines are on can continue to be used as they were prior to the turbines being installed. Another important point is because the parts for wind turbines are large and heavy, construction usually goes to local companies, so there is a ripple down affect which draws manufacturing to the area, which creates jobs in these areas,” Salerno said.

However, Houston also is a main hub for manufacturing, with more than 30 manufacturing companies involved in wind energy.

A study released by the Waco-based Perryman Group in May 2010 estimates the wind industry is responsible for nearly 10,000 manufacturing, headquarters, construction, and maintenance and support jobs in Texas annually. The American Wind Energy Association places Texas first among states in wind industry employment, which includes manufacturing, installation and maintenance jobs.

Workers across the state play a fundamental part in the international supply chain of the industry. Texas is a leader in steel fabrication and transportation for wind energy and in advanced materials such as carbon fiber, which are exported from Texas to wind-energy companies around the globe.

In addition, this young industry is adding programs to universities and colleges, with Texas Tech offering a doctoral program in Wind Science and Engineering, the first and only wind energy related Ph.D. program in the U.S. Texas State Technical College – West Texas and Amarillo College also offer wind training courses and programs. West Texas A&M’s Alternative Energy Institute offers online courses for wind energy, and other colleges have programs on the drawing board.

These new college programs are the result of high-staff demands in the industry. For example, one website, Texas Renewable Energy, lists more than 1,500 open jobs in Texas and more are expected as new construction of wind farms begin throughout this year. Jobs listed are across the board, from engineers, designers, to turbine technicians and many others.

“2012 was a great year, a record year for GE and the wind industry. In 2013, there will be many projects under construction, so in 2014, we’ll see a rise in the market,” Guyette said.

Guyette said, “It is all about new technology that is driving the growth of this industry. Today, wind power is providing 4 percent of power/electricity globally, with 96 percent coming from other sources. Yet, every year it will rise so in two years it could be up to 6 or 7 percent globally.”

The goal is to have wind power producing up to 20 percent by 2030, and the industry is on track to reach that goal, Salerno said.

However, good news for consumers: wind industry is bringing down the cost of electricity.

“One difference is with wind energy, there are no price spikes, costs stays flat, which consumers appreciate,” Salerno said.