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Green Job Realities

Quantifying the economic benefits of generation alternatives.

Fortnightly Magazine - May 2010

Around the world, countries look to the electric power industry to create good jobs and be a fundamental force in their local economies. Green, clean and renewable forms of power production are seen by some to be harbingers of the so-called “new” economy by providing both growth and reliable jobs as the industry transforms itself. Traditional forms of power generation lack the panache of the new economy and face economic, environmental, and regulatory uncertainties, yet through their incumbency they provide the vast majority of current industry jobs.

Clear, concise, and unambiguous economic comparisons across all forms of generation technologies appear to be extinct. Numerous tools and models allow decision makers to assess prospective benefits and account for direct, indirect, and induced economic effects, but no one appears to have looked across the spectrum of generation technologies and asked, “What does current actual data show?” To put it another way, if a county economic developer asked, “What would be the employment impact of this generation technology on my community?” where might he or she find a simple answer?

Producing that simple answer requires performing a complex analysis.

Jobs Per Megawatt

To analyze the economic and workforce contributions of various energy technologies, the authors began by reviewing the contribution of permanent direct local jobs per megawatt of installed electric capacity for the most common types of generation technologies, starting at the commercial in-service date of the power plant. The technologies compared were coal-steam, concentrating solar, combined cycle, hydro (multiple constructions), nuclear, photovoltaic (PV) solar, and wind. Direct local jobs were compared with MWe installed capacity, because these jobs don’t depend on plant operations; they depend solely on the existence of the plant as a going concern. In fact, an argument can be made that a power plant undergoing an outage produces more local economic activity than a steady-state operating plant due to contractors and shift work required to restore a plant to operating status.

The analysis ignored the indirect and induced jobs used in various models, because from the point of view of a local economic developer, these jobs might be transitory or outside the local area. Also ignored were taxes—for the sake of simplicity—because local taxing entities frequently provide various levels of tax relief for projects.

In performing the analysis, actual data on various technologies were used for plant staffing and sizes from various information sources. The data were drawn from Navigant Consulting’s annual staffing surveys, benchmarking services, plant staffing databases and discussions with industry experts.

The first step in the analysis compared direct local permanent jobs per MWe of installed capacity for each of the technologies reviewed (see Figure 1) . The data showed that various technologies produce vastly different levels of employment.

Utility-scale PV facilities provide the most jobs per MWe of installed capacity, because

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