Running With the Wind: Trends in the Wind Energy Industry


by Cameron Macht

Recently, labor market analyst Kate Aitchison reviewed job vacancy survey findings in the biofuels and wind energy industries.  Today, Cameron Macht, labor market analyst for the Central and Southwest Minnesota region, takes a more in-depth look at trends that are driving employment growth in the wind energy industry—both statewide and in southwest Minnesota.

 

By most measures, Minnesota is a national leader in the wind energy industry. Minnesota ranks first in the percentage of its electricity generated from wind, has the fourth-largest amount of installed wind power capacity, and has the ninth-highest wind energy potential in the U.S. As the industry continues to grow, there will be more opportunities for jobseekers.

 

According to a recent report from the American Wind Energy Association, Minnesota and Iowa both generated over seven percent of their electricity from wind (just 13 states get more than two percent). Although wind energy provides less than two percent of the U.S. electricity supply, it has the potential to account for a much bigger share of the market in the future. A U.S. Department of Energy study projected that wind power could supply 20 percent of U.S. energy within two decades. For that to happen, however, wind-power installations would need to increase by more than 16,000 megawatts per year by 2018 and continue at that rate through 2030.

 

Wind power projects generate a variety of jobs, some short-term—in industries like development, financing, transportation, and construction—and others more long-term—like operations, maintenance, and manufacturing. Likewise, wind energy careers span a wide range of possibilities, from lower-skill jobs like material movers, team assemblers, and construction laborers to truck drivers, sheet metal workers, and production supervisors; all the way up to transmission design engineers, wind development sales executives, and meteorologists.

 

Perhaps the most recognized career is the wind energy technician, which requires significant knowledge of electrical circuits, mechanical systems, safety standards, and wind energy fundamentals.  According to the description of the Wind Energy Mechanic diploma program at Minnesota West Community & Technical College, “wind energy mechanics must operate in compliance with company, State, and Federal OSHA requirements and be capable of climbing to 300 feet. They work closely with clients and must have an understanding of environmental issues and politics, written technical skills, and data interpretation.”

 

Opportunities in wind energy are especially prevalent in southwest Minnesota. The Southwest Minnesota Careers site picked wind energy technicians as one of the region’s hottest and fastest growing jobs, projecting that the number of wind energy technicians in the southwest corner of the state will double over the next decade. Based on information from local businesses and post-secondary instructors, the starting salary for wind energy technicians varies by the company and also what type of experience the applicant has, but roughly is somewhere between $13.00 and $17.00 per hour ($27,040 to $35,360 annual wages). An experienced, higher-level technician that is not in a lead position earns around $25.00 to $30.00 per hour ($52,000 to $62,400 annual wages), depending on the company.

 

In Southwest Minnesota, there are approximately 125 wind energy technicians, which are all relatively new positions. Based on the industry growth and the increasing demand for renewable energy sources, it is entirely possible that the number of wind energy technicians in the region would at least double, if not triple, over the next ten years. In other words, there will likely be 125 to 250 additional job openings for wind energy technicians in southwest Minnesota through 2017 – a demand of at least 12 to 15 new technicians per year.

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