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Green Job Realities

Quantifying the economic benefits of generation alternatives.

Fortnightly Magazine - May 2010

they generally require a large on-site staff to clean the solar panels and provide plant security. However, there are very few on-site skilled labor jobs for these facilities due to the fact that most PV plants acquire skilled transitory labor through long-term service agreements with original equipment manufacturers.

By comparison, nuclear power is a very labor-intensive technology when it comes to permanent direct job creation. Large support staffs and security personnel augment operations staffs to create many local employment opportunities. Improvements in the design of next generation nuclear power plants might lead to smaller staffs in the future. Also, nuclear power has some of the longest lead times to create permanent local jobs due to lengthy construction schedules.

Concentrating solar power (CSP) facilities are fairly labor intensive and create a significant number of jobs per MWe installed capacity. Similar in nature to utility-scale PV plants, CSPs have a significant land area footprint and need O&M personnel to maintain a large number of labor-intensive solar collectors, as well as perform standard steam plant O&M activities.

Using the jobs per MWe installed capacity metric, micro hydro ( i.e., smaller than 20 MW) plants create almost as many jobs as nuclear and CSP plants. However, by definition, they aren’t scalable in size and their ultimate economic impact on a community is quite limited. By comparison, small hydro plants ( i.e., between 20 MW and 500 MW) and coal plants are nearly identical in this metric and create slightly less than half as many permanent direct local jobs as nuclear plants on a MWe capacity basis.

A review showed that combined-cycle and wind power are the most labor efficient and create the fewest number of jobs per MWe installed capacity. Unlike other technologies, the labor efficiency of wind isn’t directly related to the overall capacity of the wind farm; rather it’s related to the number of wind turbines. One would expect labor efficiencies to increase—resulting in fewer jobs per MWe—as individual wind turbines grow in capacity. Wind is unique also in that it provides lease payments to landowners. While not direct jobs, these payments go directly to the residents of the community, rather than a government entity, as do taxes.

Direct permanent local jobs per MWe installed capacity is a useful metric to compare the labor efficiency of generating technologies, but it neglects to account for the scalability of each technology. A high-level review of currently operating plants was conducted that determined an average size plant for each technology (see Figure 2) . Combining this information with average wages across technologies allowed for the determination of the direct payroll impact each technology brings to a community. Using information from the earlier identified sources combined with public data, the average hourly wage rates for an average plant employee across technologies was determined. The scalability of traditional generation technologies derives its advantage over renewable technologies from creating larger local economic impacts.

Nuclear plants create the largest workforce annual income based on both large capacity and being a labor-intensive technology (see Figure 3) . The average wages