Amid the political posturing about the nation’s unemployment rate, two encouraging tidbits surfaced in the news flow this week.
The first item was that rising unemployment numbers might well indicate increasing numbers of jobs. Counter-intuitive, but true.
The apparent contradiction, it turns out, lies in the fact that the jobless rate numbers do not count workers who have used up their unemployment benefits and stopped looking for work because, we are regularly told, there are no jobs to find. Hence the occasional, usually political, assertion that more people are out of work than the unemployment report indicates.
Therefore, if the economy improves enough to make new jobs more apparent, at least some of those non-lookers may again start looking – which would, statistically speaking, place them back on the ranks of the unemployed.
Thus candidates for certain offices would be able to proclaim, depending on their audience, that more jobs have been created, and that more people are unemployed. Both statements could be true. Weird.
The second item to grab my ear was there are plenty of new jobs in the renewable energy industry, particularly for anyone interested in climbing 300-foot high wind-power towers to maintain the turbines.
And interested also, possibly, in moving from where they live to where the jobs are. (There was a time in this nation’s history when it was normal to move one’s residency for promise of income.)
For instance, Oklahoma has been beneficiary of a boom in wind-power generation, with small, jobless towns gaining treasure in much the way northern tier Pennsylvania towns have benefited from the Marcellus Shale natural gas boom. About 40,000 wind turbines already are operating nationwide, and thousands more are in various stages of planning and construction.
Last month, the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers and TransWest Express signed a partnering agreement for the development and construction of the TransWest Express transmission project – a 725-mile power line to connect 3,000 megawatts of electricity generated by wind in Wyoming with consumers in California, Nevada, and Arizona.
“It will provide enough clean and sustainable power to serve nearly two million households,” IBEW and TransWest said in a joint statement.
Anyone who does much inter-state driving almost cannot help noticing the towers popping up from ridgelines across the nation, their 100-foot blades slowly rotating to drive the huge generators. On my way home from Ohio this week, I stopped to take a couple pictures of the half-dozen wind generators visible on the south side of I-70 near the Somerset service area. A few miles farther east, my eyes now cued to look for them, I spotted another array on the north side of the ’pike.
North Carolina-based Duke Energy has 15 wind projects in the U.S., including three in Pennsylvania. It has announced a planned expansion in Lycoming County, and appears poised to build another array in Cambria County. Other wind farms are operating in the Pocono Mountains near Wilkes-Barre and in Fayette County.
And like anything mechanical, and especially any machine exposed 24/7 to the elements it requires to function, wind turbines demand regular maintenance. Fortunately for job seekers, the industry has been erecting wind-powered generators faster than it can find people to keep them running.
The industry standard reportedly indicates one technician for every 10 of those turbines. That is about 4,000 technicians now, and more soon.
Basic requirements include a high school diploma or GED, ability to climb to the top of a 300-foot tall pole, and desire to earn wages around $20 an hour. Training is available, much of it funded, at least partially, by grants from the U.S. Department of Labor.
As I write this column, into my email comes a notice that the U.S. Senate has blocked an effort to allow construction of the Keystone XL pipeline – a proposal to pipe oil from tar sands in Alberta, Canada to the Texas Gulf Coast. As noted in this space and elsewhere, the oil and products made from it will have negligible, if any, effect on U.S. gasoline prices. Instead, the products will benefit a worldwide marketplace – and the owners of refineries in Galveston, Texas.
As any resident of a tourist town can attest, when prices go up during tourist season, there is no discount offered to those who live there year ’round. According to supporters of expanded drilling, the increased oil supply should result in reduced costs for energy produced from dead dinosaurs. Alas, there is no discount to U.S. customers when economically burgeoning Asian nations are willing to pay tourist prices for oil and gas.
But wind-generated electricity cannot, for the foreseeable or imagined future, be exported. Neither can installation and maintenance of the generating equipment and infrastructure. Electricity to power our televisions, heat our dinners, and charge our MP3 players must be generated in the U.S.
There is not enough wind to blow out our fossil-fueled fires any time soon, but it appears the jobs created by alternatives to oil and natural gas may hold the key to economic security for many job seekers entering – or re-entering – the workforce.
Photo by Vattenfall
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