Electric power generation jobs show decline in recent years

There are not as many power plant jobs in the United States as there were a few years ago, according to an analysis posted by the Energy Information Administration (EIA) on Dec. 19.

The electric power generation sector lost more than 5,800 jobs from January 2011 through June 2014 despite a gain of nearly 1,800 non-hydro renewable electricity generation jobs, according to the latest data available from the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), EIA said.

Every segment of the power sector has long touted its role in job creation.

The job count at fossil fuel plants declined 1% over that period while nuclear plant employment declined 9%, due largely to early retirement of facilities such as the Edison International (NYSE:EIX) San Onofre Units 2 and 3 in California and the Dominion (NYSE:D) Kewaunee nuclear plant in Wisconsin and the Duke Energy (NYSE:DUK) Crystal River 3 facility in Florida, EIA said.

But the employment levels at non-hydro renewable facilities have shown a significant increase: 16% for wind; 201% solar; 20% for biomass and 9% for geothermal.

“BLS data shown here only reflect jobs in electric power generation, not the jobs associated with electric transmission and distribution systems,” EIA cautioned. Also, jobs involved in the construction of new facilities, processing or transportation of fuels, or behind-the-meter distributed generation installations and service (e.g., solar panel installers) are not counted by BLS as jobs in the electric power sector.

Jobs at new gas plants partly offset losses at coal plants

Recent coal plant retirements, which were partially offset by natural gas capacity additions, drove the net decline of 1,750 fossil fuel power generation jobs since 2011, EIA said.

Between 2012 and 2020, about 60 GW of coal-fired capacity is projected to retire in the Annual Energy Outlook 2014 Reference case, which assumes implementation of the MATS standards, as well as other existing laws and regulations, EIA has said. This is being partly offset by new natural gas capacity as more than 6,800 MW of gas-fueled generation came online in 2013 alone, EIA has said.

“While BLS does not break out the jobs category by fuel, the operations of the new natural gas power plants are less labor intensive than those of the older coal plants that are being displaced,” EIA said.

Fossil fuel plants are more geographically dispersed across the country compared to other power generation categories, but the states that have the most fossil fuel jobs are: Texas, Michigan, Florida, Indiana, and Ohio. Fossil fuel jobs include employment at plants fueled by coal, natural gas, and petroleum.

Nuclear power plants have shed more than 4,900 jobs since 2011. The reduction in nuclear plant jobs will grow deeper soon when Entergy (NYSE:ETR) closes the Vermont Yankee facility at the end of 2014, EIA noted.

On the positive side, it’s worth noting that the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) expects to commission its Watts Bar 2 nuclear facility by the end of 2015.

South Carolina, Pennsylvania, New York, Michigan, New Jersey, and Illinois are the states with the most nuclear plants.

Employment at hydroelectric generators fell 6% over this time, but it was still more than double that of all other non-hydro renewable generation employment. The EIA analysis did not include a possible explanation for the dip in hydro power employment.

BLS first provided separate data series for renewable generation job categories in 2011. All four categories of non-hydro renewables have seen gains in power generation jobs since 2011. Solar has led the way, with the number of jobs related to the operation of solar generation installations in the electric power sector more than tripling in that timeframe. Although wind jobs have grown at a slower rate than solar since 2011, increasing 16%, there are still more than twice as many wind jobs as solar jobs in the electric power sector.

Renewables jobs are more geographically concentrated than fossil fuel jobs, corresponding to the location of renewable generation capacity. California is home to the most solar, geothermal, and biomass jobs, and the second-most wind jobs behind Texas


About Wayne Barber 4201 Articles
Wayne Barber, Chief Analyst for the GenerationHub, has been covering power generation, energy and natural resources issues at national publications for more than 20 years. Prior to joining PennWell he was editor of Generation Markets Week at SNL Financial for nine years. He has also worked as a business journalist at both McGraw-Hill and Financial Times Energy. Wayne also worked as a newspaper reporter for several years. During his career has visited nuclear reactors and coal mines as well as coal and natural gas power plants. Wayne can be reached at wayneb@pennwell.com.