by Jon Sanders
Director of the Center for Food, Power, and Life, Research Editor | John Locke Foundation
The Cooper administration’s announcement of a “Memorandum of Understanding” with the nation of Denmark to share “knowledge, data, and best practices” over offshore wind energy development predictably set their media acolytes abuzz. Readers not interested in rehashed Cooper press releases needed to turn to Carolina Journal for a fuller understanding of the issues at hand.
Strangely, one issue those other media focused on was wind energy manufacturing jobs in North Carolina. How many are there?
Let’s start with the nation, which should give us an idea of what to expect in North Carolina. Per the “United States Energy & Employment Report 2022” from the U.S. Department of Energy, there were 23,644 wind energy manufacturing jobs in the United States.
Then of course we would need an idea of how many people have jobs of any kind in North Carolina. By year’s end 2022, employment in North Carolina was, as given by the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), 4.96 million people.
So the number of wind energy manufacturing jobs nationwide was 23,644. But according to WRAL, however, “over 400,000” of them are “already” in North Carolina. What?
The Energy Department says there are 23,644 wind energy manufacturing jobs nationwide. According to WRAL, “over 400,000” of them are “already” in North Carolina. What?
In a story titled “NC, Denmark reach offshore wind energy agreement for environmental, economic benefits,” WRAL “climate change reporter” Liz McLaughlin and WRAL Eastern North Carolina reporter Kenan Willard (whose name was misspelled in the byline) wrote:
Because of North Carolina’s central location, consistent wind, and shallow waters it [offshore wind energy] has great potential in the industry. There are more than 400,000 wind energy manufacturing jobs already in the state.
Citing WRAL’s reporting, WITN’s Web Team’s story placed North Carolina’s number at “nearly half-a-million”:
Because of North Carolina’s central location, consistent wind, and shallow waters it has great potential in the industry. There are nearly half-a-million wind energy manufacturing jobs already in the state.
What’s going on? Did wind energy manufacturing suddenly became one of the state’s top employers? If so, why wasn’t the “over 400,000” figure in the official announcement?
A few years ago, Carolina Journal’s intrepid investigative reporter Don Carrington showed how problematic government counts of “green jobs” were. In 2009 the U.S. Department of Labor had given the North Carolina Department of Commerce over a million dollars in stimulus funding to survey “green jobs” here. Commerce’s count of green jobs in North Carolina — 171,950 — was well over twice what BLS estimated for the state (77,498). Looking into the state’s data, Carrington found that the top occupations listed with the most “green jobs” were janitors and cleaners, retail salesperson, and highway construction workers.
So where did that “over 400,000 wind energy manufacturing jobs” number come from? Is it more fanciful accounting? Are we, for example, including lawn care professionals, maintenance crews, construction workers, and others who use leaf blowers? What about retail sales of ceiling fans and shop fans? Or perhaps hair stylists using hair dryers?
If one out of every eight worker in North Carolina is supposedly employed in wind energy manufacturing, the definition of “wind energy manufacturing” used must be extremely broad.
Outside of WRAL, the most generous count for wind energy manufacturing jobs in North Carolina I could find was in the “Go With the Wind” brochure from the Economic Development Partnership of North Carolina (EDPNC) calling for wind energy developers to latch onto state economic incentives. They placed the number at over 1,000. It’s a generous count they got from the American Wind Energy Association, and it includes manufacturers of wind turbine components — not just “blades, towers, and turbine nacelles” but also “raw components such as fiberglass and steel.”
Elsewhere, under the heading “PLENTIFUL AND SKILLED WORKFORCE,” the EDPNC brochure cites a statistic that North Carolina boasts “475,000+” manufacturing employees. The Federal Reserve estimates total employment in manufacturing in North Carolina at year’s end 2022 at 477,100. In other words, North Carolina’s total employment in manufacturing in general is “over 400,000” and “nearly half-a-million.”
Is it possible that the reporters saw the EDPNC number for manufacturing jobs and assumed, since it occurred next to a picture of wind turbines, that it referred to wind energy manufacturing jobs?
Regardless, I suspect reporter credulity is the reason for the number, rather than inventive accounting (leaf blowers, ceiling fans, and hair dryers, etc.). Even so, an editor should have questioned it. After all, at nearly half a million jobs, it would make wind energy manufacturing one of the state’s largest employers.
If readers are left with the impression that wind energy is that consequential, while questioning “wind energy” jobs might feel dangerously close to questioning wind energy itself, perhaps that’s why it didn’t happen. For that, see Carolina Journal:
Jon Sanders, director of the Center for Food, Power, and Life and research editor at the John Locke Foundation [said] “Research shows that offshore wind energy development is enormously expensive, would cost the state thousands upon thousands of jobs, would spike electricity prices and energy poverty here, and that it would be especially harmful to coastal areas’ two major industries of fishing and tourism. It threatens dozens of endangered marine species, including North Atlantic Right Whales and Loggerhead Turtles. All of this would be for an electricity source that it entirely dependent upon nature and cannot be relied upon for baseline production.”
Sanders also points out that while Denmark may have the experience and knowledge in building offshore wind farms, they probably don’t have the knowledge to build in hurricane-prone waters.
“North Carolina’s coast rivals Florida’s with the frequency of hurricanes and major hurricanes,” he said. “These storms would be plowing into wind energy areas over three times the area of the City of Wilmington and sporting turbines taller than the tallest buildings in the state.”
Even though Denmark promotes the fact that half of its energy comes from wind turbines, the country has also seen its share of issues with that type of electricity generation.
According to an October article from renewablesnow.com, Denmark has lost $2.1 billion (the equivalent of over $300 million in U.S. dollars) due to underperforming and curtailed wind turbines. … Danish authorities were also preparing for a possible energy crisis in September amid a five-fold increase in electricity and gas prices in August. In October, Danish authorities ordered energy company Ørsted to resume operations at its oil and coal-fired power stations to ensure the supply of electricity in Denmark.