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Green Job Realities

Quantifying the economic benefits of generation alternatives.

Fortnightly Magazine - May 2010

in the nuclear industry compare favorably with other power generation technologies. While nuclear power plant operator wages may approach $50 an hour, the large support staff and security force wages tend to lower the overall average below that of other technologies.

PV and CSP technologies have the lowest average wage rates compared with other technologies. This reflects the nature of the tasks associated with solar collector upkeep. Wind and micro hydro plants have the highest wages. This is consistent with the small staff that is skilled in a number of different disciplines needed to provide direct support to these plants.

Economic Footprint

Other important considerations for economic developers in comparing different technologies beyond direct economic impact include plant footprints, construction timelines, resource availability and local environmental sensibilities.

A review of operating plant footprints showed wide variability within and across technologies. Acreages were averaged from a sample of actual plant data (see Figure 4) . For example, two 1,175 MWe nuclear plants operate on 84 acres at the San Onofre nuclear generating plant (SONGS) and three plants totaling 3,739 MWe installed capacity on 4,000 acres at Palo Verde Plant. Hydro plant footprints proved impossible to compare, because while the powerhouse, dam and ancillary equipment have a measurable footprint, the size of the watershed makes comparisons effectively meaningless. In many instances, power plant sites allow dual-use of portions of the footprint. Cooling lakes serving as heat sinks can support recreational activities, and land used for wind farms also can continue to simultaneously support traditional agricultural activities.

Construction timelines proved to be important differentiators among technologies because timelines affect how quickly permanent direct jobs materialize. Wind and solar power plants are the quickest at developing direct permanent jobs in a community. However, their cumulative construction schedule advantage, versus coal or nuclear plants, disappears after approximately three months of plant operations. With regard to hydro plants, while a review of the data didn’t show lead time, anecdotal information indicates these facilities approach or exceed nuclear power plant lead times (see Figure 5) .

Last, resource availability and local environmental sensibilities constrain the options from which an economic developer can choose. For the foreseeable future, traditional generation technologies will have an advantage over alternative generation technologies as engines for local economic growth. The development of larger scale wind farms ( i.e., larger than 500 MWe) holds the greatest promise for alternative generation to surpass combined-cycle plants in local job creation, but the large footprints of such facilities might limit potential sites.

While this analysis focused on actual data from current operating sites for direct local permanent jobs, all technologies have the potential to become much more labor efficient over time. For instance, future small-scale nuclear plants (see ,“ The Incredible Shrinking Reactor ”) might employ tens of personnel rather than hundreds, and current advances in PV technology might reduce required labor by a third of current requirements in new installations. This trend across all technologies will be good for the environment and for electricity consumers, but it will bring fewer economic benefits to supporting communities.