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Wind energy beats iPod in U.S. job creation

Google gives wind energy a boost, but tax credit expiration could deliver a major wind industry setback

September 27, 2012 06:00 AM ET

Computerworld - You remember the iPod. The iPod created jobs, but a majority of those jobs were overseas. Electronics manufacturing jobs are mostly overseas, which helps to keep one million workers at China's Foxconn plants busy.

In contrast, the majority of wind energy jobs are in the U.S., say researchers in a study by the Personal Computing Industry Center (PCIC), an Alfred P. Sloan Foundation Center.

In the study, the PCIC researchers applied a methodology similar to what they used to measure the job impact of the iPod. A working paper by PCIC found that the wind industry creates a larger share of total employment in the U.S. than the iPod did in 2006, 74% versus 34%.

But as many as half of the wind energy jobs may disappear if a tax credit is allowed to expire at year-end, say the PCIC paper and the American Wind Energy Association (AWEA).

It has become an election issue. President Barack Obama has favored extending the credit, and Republican nominee Mitt Romney is opposing its extension. The tax credit costs about $1 billion a year.

The wind industry is already seeing layoffs in expectation that Congress will fail to renew the credit. That is happening even as Google, for instance, announced today its plans to buy 48 MW of wind power to help supply its data center in Mayes County, Okla.

The PCIC researchers found that the U.S. wind industry has created nearly 27,000 direct jobs, and 9,250 non-U.S. jobs.

By contrast, the iPod, the PCIC researchers found, created nearly 14,000 U.S. jobs and 27,250 non-U.S. jobs in 2006.

High-tech manufacturing employment has declined by 28% since 2000, or about 687,000 jobs, the National Science Foundation said in a report this year.

This wind energy job count number for the U.S. may grow to as much as 30,000 to 35,000 as research continues, said Jason Dedrick, an associate professor at the School of Information Studies at Syracuse University, and one of the people on the project. The other authors are Kenneth L. Kraemer, a research professor at the University of California, Irvine, and Greg Linden, a research associate at the University of California, Berkeley.

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Source: From working paper, "Should the U.S. Support the Wind Energy Industry?" by the Personal Computing Industry Center.

There are differing estimates on the wind industry's impact on job creation.

The American Wind Energy Association has put the number of wind jobs at 75,000. Its methodology is based on its database of nearly 500 facilities in all aspects of manufacturing. They estimate at least 30,000 jobs in manufacturing alone.

The balance of jobs in AWEA's estimate is made up of people who develop wind projects, maintain and run them. It includes anyone involved with the project, including wind financing specialist at banks, and people who prepare environmental studies, said Elizabeth Salerno, AWEA's Director of Industry Data & Analysis.

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