Facts About ‘Green Job’ Creation Elusive as the Wind

MacIver News Service | September 1, 2010

[Madison, Wisc…] Although they are touted and promoted by policy makers and opinion leaders across the state, accurately defining and keeping track of ‘green jobs’ has proven nearly impossible in Wisconsin.

Take, for example, ‘green jobs’ associated with the wind industry.

“Clean energy technology and high-end manufacturing are Wisconsin’s future,” Governor Jim Doyle said in his final State of the State address.  “We have more than 300 companies and thousands of jobs in the wind industry.”

That statistic is impossible to verify.

The State of Wisconsin does not track those companies nor the jobs within the industry.  When contacted, the Office of Energy Independence (an agency created by Governor Doyle in 2007) directed MacIver News to Wisconsin Wind Works, a self-described “consortium of manufacturers representing the wind manufacturing supply chain within Wisconsin.”

The advocacy group maintains an online wind energy-related supply chain database, although a routine examination of the data proved just how unreliable the figures are.

When the online, searchable database was utilized earlier this summer, it listed 340 companies in Wisconsin connected to the wind industry, a fact which, without additional investigation would appear to be in line with the Governor’s statement.  However, further examination showed many of those companies were not currently serving the wind industry and were only listed because they someday could serve the wind industry.

For example, the database listed 38 manufacturers, but only 24 of them have anything to actually do with the wind energy sector presently.

Of those 24 Wisconsin manufacturers, only eight were categorized as primary suppliers.  Another four companies were listed as both primary and secondary suppliers.  A MacIver News Service reporter contacted all eight primary suppliers and the four companies listed as primary/secondary suppliers in our initial query and what we found further eroded the credibility of Governor Doyle’s claims.

When contacted, the companies listed as both primary and secondary suppliers all described themselves merely as secondary suppliers.  That means they produce products that are not exclusive to the wind energy.  For example, Bushman Equipment manufactures lifts that move heavy pieces of equipment, which, among many other uses, can be used to handle wind turbines.

Wisconsin Wind Works’ database is not only generous with the number of companies within their supply chain it associates as being primary suppliers, there are issues with the actual job numbers listed for each company as well. Many of the figures are either inflated,  the jobs are not located in Wisconsin, or they cannot be tied to wind energy.

For example, Rexnord Industries was one of the eight Wisconsin manufacturers listed in our query as directly serving the wind energy industry.  The database shows the company has 6,000 employees.  Yet a Rexnord official told the MacIver News Service that the company only has 1,500 employees in Wisconsin, and only five of those have jobs which are directly tied to the wind industry.

Wisconsin Wind Works’ database says Orchid International has 600 employees, but a company spokesperson told MacIver it only has 150.  Amsoil Inc. in Superior has 236 employees listed in the Wisconsin Wind Works database, but a company representative told the MacIver News Service that only 6 of them work on wind energy-related products.

In all, at the time of our search, the database claimed 7,632 jobs among the eight manufacturers that were current primary suppliers to the wind industry.  Yet, the MacIver News Service was only able to identify 31 jobs at those companies which were specifically tied to wind energy related products.

Manufacturers told MacIver News that other employees might work on wind-related products occasionally, but it does not represent the bulk of their workload.

Another 1,077 workers are listed among the secondary suppliers and we did not investigate that claim.

VAL-FAB, one of the companies listed as both a primary and secondary supplier, explained to MacIver News that it initially had high hopes for the wind energy industry that never materialized.  The company specializes in fabrication for the energy sector.

William Capelle, Director of Business Development at VAL-FAB, said “At first we thought we might be able to manufacture the actual towers, but it turns out 90 percent of those are imported from Spain.”

Since the MacIver News Service first examined the Wisconsin Wind Works database, the number of companies listed has increased to 360.  A reporter attempted to contact the organization for comment about the veracity of their data, but Wisconsin wind Works, which solicits members by selling itself as the  “preferred partner of wind energy professionals,” did not respond.

They are, however, holding a Wind Energy Symposium in Milwaukee on October 13th.

Meanwhile the Office of Energy Independence continues to pursue the Doyle Administration’s green energy policies.  As Doyle said during his final State of the State address, “anyone who says there aren’t jobs in the clean energy economy had better open their eyes.”

There is no doubt that some jobs in the wind industry exist in Wisconsin. The accurate number of these ‘green jobs’ is proving to be, at best, elusive

Representatives of Doyle’s office did not respond to repeated request for comments regarding the information contained within this article.

By Bill Osmulski
MacIver News Service Investigative Reporter

Wisconsin Wind Works’ directory

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