One compelling argument favoring wind energy development in rural areas is the opportunity for local economic benefits, especially jobs. Wind energy proponents fervently tout numbers showing hundreds of high-paying jobs created. But as with many of the benefits attributed to wind energy development, the details tell a different story.
Most of the jobs in a wind energy project are created during the construction phrase. These jobs are temporary lasting between 6 and 18 months. High-paying jobs, in particularly are usually filled by people who come to the area for short periods of time to assemble the towers, turbines, and associated electronics and to build substations and transmission lines necessary to connect wind turbines to the electric grid. Few permanent jobs are created.
Many wind companies publish their estimated employment numbers when trying to secure public support, however, they have no obligation to report actual employment so it can be difficult to confirm or refute their preconstruction estimates.
Larger project owners have the resources to pool their operational functions (purchasing parts, administrative, payroll, insurance, etc.) and can have centrally located crews to do maintenance on multiple projects. Smaller project owners sign maintenance contracts with turbine vendors that do not rely on local labor. For example, Vestas has its own turbine operations business.
Windaction.org received this report written by a gentleman laboring at a wind energy construction site in the United States:
"I went to the jobsite to check in yesterday afternoon. I noticed a lot of folks there who didn't speak English. I put on my mandatory hardhat, safety vest, hard-toed boots, and safety glasses, poured myself a cup of coffee and walked to the warm-up area. There we were given our daily safety talk.
This phase of construction is winding down and now they're 'energizing' the 90 or so turbines erected.
"After the safety talk and the pep talk, we formed a big circle. They put on loud music and a large fellow led us in stretches! Mind you the sun had still not risen and there were more than a hundred people there, about 15 men for every woman, all with hardhats, safety vests, steel-toed boots, and safety glasses on, all doing coordinated stretching.
"I asked someone in my office how many were from here. He said he was a local and that there were a few more. He said most of the early construction jobs, including site preparation labor positions were done by the locals. The actual design work plus the construction, erection of the towers, the energizing, and the operation, were all done by people who have been doing this type of work all over the world - they're trained and experienced, which means they're not from here. And the crews are from Spain, Poland, Germany, and Korea....
"So as usual, the low paying jobs go to us. The investment comes from out-of-state and largely from out-of-country. The profits go out-of-state and largely out-of-country. The workers come from out-of-state, and many from out-of-country.
"By the time the average person realizes what's happening, there will be huge wind farm facilities built across the state. They will all be financed, built, owned, and operated by out-of-state entities, and most of the energy will be sent out-of-state and the profits will largely go out-of-state and overseas. And we will be sitting here wondering what happened.
"Oh well, at least I have a job. I wonder if I'll be paid in Euros."