by Eileen Weber
As Rick Fuentes said in his blog on FreshEnergy.org, “Coal is what, a 300-year-old industry? Ancient. Wind is just getting its ability to buy booze. And to say that the new industry is neck-and-neck with the old one is amazing.”
With a 70% increase in wind jobs since 2007, the industry hit a high of 85,000 at the end of 2008. Coal mining jobs were at 81,000. A relatively new energy source has gained lots of ground in a short of span of time.
According to the American Wind Energy Association (AWEA), coal is the largest source for greenhouse gas emissions and is used to generate about half of the electricity in the U.S. Other sources such as gas, oil, and nuclear power don’t even come close.
Much of the wind industry is rooted in the Midwest and West Coast. Many of the turbines are being placed on Native American reservations where open tracts of land are readily available. The residents on these reservations say this is a way for the tribes to generate much-needed income off a natural resource.
“We’re poor,” said Ken Haukaas, a Sioux tribal official in Rosebud, SD, as quoted in an October 9, 2008 article in The New York Times. But, Haukaas pointed out that the wind is free and there for the taking. “There’s energy here all the time.”
But the gain that the wind industry has seen so far may not continue. In a February 3rd article in The New York Times, the installation of both wind and solar power is decreasing as a result of tight finances and a lack of investors to foot the bill. Many of those investors are banks like JPMorgan Chase, which has sponsored 54 wind farms. As a result, manufacturing companies, DMI Industries in North Dakota and Wind Clean Corporation in Texas to name two, are laying off workers.
In a company statement, DMI officials said, "Where we had been building up our capacities to meet projected increases in 2009 volumes, we now expect overall production levels for DMI this year to be slightly lower than in 2008."
While many people are hoping the Obama administration’s stimulus package will help the ailing economy, it may be a while before any obvious effect takes place. Where turbines were once ordered well in advance, now the manufacturers can’t seem to give them away.
“At least one vendor has said that they have equipment for delivery in 2009, where nine months ago they wouldn’t have been able to take new orders until 2011,” said Craig Mataczynski of Renewable Energy as quoted in The New York Times article. Many companies like his have been forced to cancel some orders for wind turbines, forfeiting the original deposit.
It remains to be seen if a fast-growing green industry such as wind power can sustain itself through the bad times. Only time, and a stimulus package, will tell.