This post was written by Kevin O’Rouke at the American Wind Energy Association and published on their blog, Into the Wind and published here with their permission.
“Made in America” labels have long signified superior quality products, produced from the hard work and innovation of our friends and neighbors.
But in today’s globalized world, those labels have become increasingly rare. That’s because over the last several decades a significant portion of our country’s manufacturing facilities have moved overseas, taking their jobs with them. According to an analysis of U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics data by the Brookings Institution, from 1980-2005 our nation lost 4.5 million manufacturing jobs–about one quarter of total U.S. manufacturing employment.
That job loss has devastated many cities. In one particularly severe example, between 1980 and 2005, Cleveland, Ohio, lost about 110,300 manufacturing jobs, or 42.5 percent of its manufacturing employment, according to the Brookings report.
But the American wind industry is one manufacturing sector that has managed to buck that trend. In fact, now approximately 70 percent of every wind turbine installed in the U.S. is American-made, as compared to 25 percent in 2005 (see Executive Summary of linked report). During that same time-period, the wind industry manufacturing workforce has grown ten-fold, from 2,500 jobs in 2005 to the 25,000 Americans that work in the wind industry supply chain today.
Traditional manufacturing states like Ohio have particularly benefitted from our industry’s growth. The Buckeye State is now home to more wind component factories than any other state in the nation–62 as of the end of 2012.
Due to the size, complexity, and transportation logistics required to install modern wind farms, it simply makes sense for wind developers to buy American-made components. Our industry’s rapid growth over the last five years has resulted in a supply chain that now spans 44 states and over 555 factories.
As previously noted, these factories are located in Congressional districts of all political stripes–part of the reason why our industry continues to receive broad bipartisan support. But that’s not the whole story. Americans simply like clean energy investment–especially in wind power. And because wind power is the cleanest source of utility-scale electricity production, wind industry workers can take pride in knowing that they are reducing pollution, while making our utility grid less sensitive to fuel price fluctuations.
With recent developments, it’s not just wind industry workers that can directly contribute to cleaning our electricity production. While the average consumer probably doesn’t have a reason to purchase a fastener or nacelle, clean energy supporters can now “vote with their dollars” by purchasing products with the WindMade Product Label. This label, which is only attached to products made by a factory using a minimum of 75 percent of renewable energy, represents a new, clean-energy spin on “Made in America” labeling.
It may be harder than ever to keep American manufacturing homegrown, but the wind industry is helping our country meet those challenges. While inconsistent policies have hurt our industry, stronger Congressional leadership in the form of long-term policy certainty can help American wind power continue to revitalize our country’s manufacturing sector.
Photo credit: First wind turbine nacelle produced in Hutchinson, Kans., courtesy Siemens Energy.