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Forget the climate argument: in Central Texas, wind energy means JOBS

In Central Texas Where Wind Power Means Jobs, Climate Talk Is Beside the Point, Wind turbines bring jobs, tax dollars for new schools, income security for farmers and energy independence. To these Texans, climate change has little to do with it. BY MEERA SUBRAMANIAN, INSIDECLIMATE NEWS
DEC 26, 2017 “………..
 Wind’s Ascent

Wind energy development in Nolan County dates back to 2001, when the first wind farmswere constructed in the area. A perfect confluence of events led to the growth of the industry since then.

There was a supportive state government, led by Republicans George W. Bush and then Rick Perry, pushing for wind by putting the regulatory and infrastructure pieces in place to make it successful. The state’s nearly autonomous electric grid meant no troublesome cross-border or federal approval was needed to get wind electricity from places like Sweetwater to the green-leaning urban markets clamoring for renewable energy. And then there were the Texans themselves, ever eager to use their land and diversify their revenue sources, especially as recurring droughts killed off the cotton and the livestock, and oil fields were either going dry or failing to pay for themselves. At the same time, federal incentives came (and went, and came again) in the form of production tax credits that helped the wind industry offset large investment costs.

If Texas were a nation, it would be the sixth-largest wind energy producer in the world. The bulk of that power is coming from the Nolan County region. And so the reddest parts of Texas are responsible for supplying upwards of 12 percent of the state’s energy needs every month with clean, green kilowatts. Occasionally, as happened one day in the blustery month of October this year (a time when those energy-sucking A/C units are switched off and electricity usage is low), it provided more than half of the electricity to the state’s power grid.

The Lure of Wind Industry Jobs

As the wind industry grew through the early 2000s, so did a desperate need for skilled labor. What emerged was the 2008 launch of TSTC’s Wind Energy Technology program, where James enrolled in 2010 and where he returned to teach in 2013 after working in the field for a couple of years.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, wind technician is currently the second-fastest growing job in America (beat out only by solar photovoltaic installer). By the end of last year, there were more than 100,000 jobs related to the wind industry nationwide, at least one-fifth of them in Texas. When the American Wind Energy Association (AWEA) launched a seal of approval for wind technician programs in 2011, TSTC was one of only three schools in the U.S. to receive it.

The students James teaches are a slice of the next generation of wind workers for an industry that, at least in this part of the country, has already established itself. They include veterans and women, those leaning politically right and left, environmentalists and climate change skeptics, the civically engaged and those who never vote. The clean energycomponent seems to be a bonus for some, but it was not the primary reason they chose this field. There is the laid-off gas worker who noticed all the wind turbines on the horizon and thought there must be an opportunity there. The English major who couldn’t find a job and remembered how much she liked the outdoor work on her family’s farm in the Texas panhandle. The two veterans who liked the element of risk and heights and the sweet spot of job independence and camaraderie………..

wind energy had bolstered the local economy.

“In pre-wind, our county taxable value was $500 million,” Ken explained. “In 2008, it was $2.8 billion,” a five-fold increase that translated to new schools and grand expansions at the local hospital. That’s money for the town, but also a steady income for local landowners, some of whom earn up to $1,000 per month from having a single commercial turbine on their property—and most of the region’s world-class wind farms are dotted across private land. Many say they’re “not sure they’d even have the ranch today if the wind didn’t come on,” Ken told me……..

complementary industries are the ecosystem that wind power belongs to—and its reach is growing. Repowering, which vastly increases efficiency by either replacing old turbines for more powerful ones or upgrading components, means more megawatts with the same footprint. It also means a whole new category of jobs. While I was there, evidence of these peripheral industries was everywhere. I watched 80-foot blades swapped out for ones twice as long. (The production tax credits helped these efforts, too.) I visited Global Fiberglass Solutions of Texas, which was setting up shop in an old aluminum recycling plant to process the decommissioned blades—which were being amassed in a 10-acre field—into building panels and other materials…….

The best places for wind are often the places that are struggling to keep rural communities alive.

What was happening in Nolan County proved that the debate about how we generate our kilowatts doesn’t have to be about climate change. It could be about embracing whatever clean energy options are available to help make small-town America economically viable. In this deeply red place, it was the embodiment of President Barack Obama’s all-of-the-above strategy. At the close of 2016, 86 percent of the country’s onshore wind turbines were located in Republican districts, according to the 2016 U.S. Wind Industry Annual Market Report. Indeed, Republican Sens. Rob Portman of Ohio and John Thune of South Dakota were some of the primary advocates responsible for keeping the PTC in place in the final version of the tax overhaul bill, which was signed Dec. 22…….. https://insideclimatenews.org/news/26122017/wind-energy-jobs-booming-texas-clean-renewable-power-climate-change

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December 27, 2017 - Posted by | renewable, USA

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