Does wind-energy production lead to higher incomes and more jobs for local residents? A study of counties in the Great Plains and Rocky Mountains indicates that answer may be yes.">
Does wind-energy production lead to higher incomes and more jobs for local residents? A study of counties in the Great Plains and Rocky Mountains indicates that answer may be yes.
The public subsidy for the wind-energy industry narrowly survived the “fiscal cliff” deal that Congress and the president struck earlier this year. One reason cited for keeping the subsidies in the federal budget was the assertion that wind energy generates jobs and income, especially in rural counties where there are fewer economic choices.
Usually these economic claims about wind energy are based on what we think will happen at the national level. For example, producing energy at home instead of buying it abroad means more dollars circulating in the U.S. economy, the argument goes. But what about the local (and largely rural) communities that are home to these wind farms? What’s the benefit there?
Scholars at the USDA Economic Research Service and other agencies looked at individual counties in the Great Plains and Rocky Mountains regions, parts of the United States with an abundance of wind-energy potential. The study looked at what happened from 2000 to 2008. (Here’s a short report on the findings and a link to the entire study.)
The scholars found that there is a correlation among wind-power production capacity, personal income and job creation in the 1,009 counties they studied.
For each megawatt of wind power installed in a county from 2000-2008, the county’s personal income increased by about $9,300 to $11,500 (depending on which economic model the scholars used). In other words, counties with more wind-power appeared to be having a greater growth in personal income.
The scholars found that the top one-quarter of wind-energy-producing counties increased their county’s personal income by about $2.6 million from 2000 to 2008 (all these figures are for the entire county, not per person).
Wind-energy production also correlated with more jobs. The study found that a county saw an increase of about half a job for each megawatt of wind power installed. The top 25 percent of wind-energy-producing counties saw an increase of 132 jobs because of wind-energy development.
The study also found that the economic impact of wind-energy production increased if a county had a greater percentage of rural population, was located farther from a highway interchange or major city, or if a greater percentage of the population had earned an associate’s degree.