Electric utility trade groups tout job, economic benefits of industry in new report
- A new report sponsored by electric utility trade groups touted the economic benefits from the power sector in the job market. The report was conducted at the behest of thee utility trade associations: the Edison Electric Institute (EEI); the American Public Power Association (APPA) and the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association (NRECA).
- According to the report, the electric utility industry employs roughly 7 million people in the United States, either directly or indirectly, with the median annual wage set at $73,000, according to 2015 data. The report estimates the sector will add more than 1.4 million jobs as utilities are projected to sink more than $100 billion annually into infrastructure investments, particularly grid-edge technology and renewable energy.
- Even as the sector is projected to grow jobs, utilities will face a significant workforce shortage as more than half of employees are due to retire in the coming decade.
A new report painted a rosy picture of the electric utility industry even as the sector faces an aging workforce, a lack of gender and racial diversity and significant baseload plant retirements that will lay off hundreds of people at a time.
The power sector is also undergoing an existential business crisis of sorts as increased deployment of distributed energy resources and renewable energy play a bigger role on the grid. Utility executives, however, acknowledged the struggle facing their workforce.
"This is an industry that’s going through a lot of change and some might even say disruption," said NRECA Chief Operating Officer Jeffrey Connor during a call about the report. "Our workforce needs are changing, so there’s an aspect of self examination to this as well as we look at the new skills that we want to bring into the energy workforce as we preserve the reliability and advocacy of that system."
On another front, utilities are shuttering financially-struggling baseload plants. In 2015, utilities retired 18 GW of coal-fired generation, accounting for 80% of the plant retirements. A handful of nuclear plants have retired as well. These plants are often sited near small communities and employ local residents. Part of the push surrounding efforts to save nuclear plants used potential job losses as a factor.
But Paul Allen, senior vice president at M.J. Bradley & Associates, said the industry has done much to address job training needs as the industry aged. In addition, the report found individual plant retirements did not affect the data analysis of overall employment numbers.
"An individual power plant closing or opening made no difference to us at all in any of the data analysis," Allen said. "A plant may very well begin a process of retiring that is almost always a lengthy process. There's a much more involved process and quite often the [employees] are transferred."
EEI President Tom Kuhn noted utilities often host a training program for those displaced employees to transfer them to another job.
"As you look at the capital expenditures in the industry, more of it is moving from the generation side of the equation to the distribution side as we put more technologies on the distribution system" such as smart grid technologies, energy storage and even rooftop solar, Kuhn said.
A previous version of this article misidentifed Jeffrey Connor as the President of NRECA.
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