CHAMPAIGN – While wind-power generation has created more than 19,000 short-term construction jobs in Illinois, the state has only about 800 permanent jobs at wind farms and is mostly missing out on potentially far more permanent jobs on the manufacturing side, according to a study released Tuesday.
The study from Illinois State University economist David Loomis highlights the economic benefits of wind power such as the construction jobs and property taxes in rural counties where turbine farms are built. But it also highlights one of the limits: It doesn’t take very many people to maintain a wind farm once it’s up and running.
So far Illinois only has a little more than 1,000 manufacturing jobs related to wind power, according to the American Wind Energy Association. That piece of the industry employs about 30,000 people around the country.
“The biggest impact is going to be on the manufacturing side,” Loomis said. “There are good paying jobs for these rural areas in terms of tower technicians. But there’s not a huge number of them for wind farms.”
The study comes as the industry waits for the renewal of a federal tax credit that has driven a boom in wind-farm construction, something industry analysts say isn’t likely in an election year. Without it, they say the subsidy-dependent industry likely will drastically slow down.
“It’s going through a boom cycle followed by a potential bust cycle in 2013,” said Matt Kaplan, associate director at IHS Emerging Energy Research in Massachusetts.
Illinois, according to the ISU study, is the fourth-largest generator of wind power among U.S. states at 3,334 megawatts, up from 2,443 megawatts a year ago.
Wind-farm building in the state has led to 814 permanent jobs that pay about $59,000 a year on average, a strong salary in the rural areas where the jobs are located, Loomis said.
But the manufacturing end of the business, particularly companies that can make parts for wind turbines, holds greater potential, he said.
Illinois State’s Center for Renewable Energy has run a series of workshops for companies interested in working in the wind-power business; worked with state officials heading to wind-industry events to try to recruit manufacturers; and tried to match manufacturers interested in moving into the wind-power industry with turbine makers that need parts.
“I called it speed-dating opportunities. OK, give your five-minute speech, your pitch to the manufacturer, what do you bring to the table that’s unique,” Loomis said.
The study also said wind farms generate $28.5 million a year in property taxes. That money is heavily concentrated in the relative handful of central and northern Illinois counties with wind farms, but it can be locally significant.