Power Sector Fossil Fuel Revenues Decrease While Renewable Energy Grows Rapidly

The U.S. Census Bureau released data on Nov. 18 showing that revenues for electric power generation industries that use renewable energy resources grew 49% from 2007 to 2012, while fossil fuel electric power generation industry revenues decreased 6.7% during the same time period.

Fossil fuel revenues continued to dwarf renewable totals, bringing in $79.7 billion versus $9.8 billion, but the margin narrowed considerably from the 2007 totals.

For the first time, the Census Bureau statistics broke out wind, geothermal, biomass, and solar electric power generation, rather than including the totals within the broad “other electric power generation” industry. Wind is the largest contributor to the renewable energy revenue total, with $5 billion in 2012, more than doubling even that of hydroelectric power generation ($2.4 billion). Geothermal revenues were $995.4 million, biomass totaled $934.6 million, solar accounted for $472.4 million, and other sources added $59.0 million.

“As industries evolve, so does the Census Bureau to continue to collect relevant data that informs America’s business decisions,” Census Bureau Director John H. Thompson said, explaining why the changes were made to the industry categories. “Industries that use renewable energy resources are still relatively small, but they are rapidly growing.”

While fossil fuels comprise two-thirds of the total electric power generation industry revenues, nuclear is also a major source of revenue, bringing in a quarter of the total.

Remarkably, the nuclear electric power generation industry saw a jump in employment numbers, increasing 39.3% from 37,972 workers in 2007 to 52,906 in 2012. The numbers are unexpected, because no new plants were commissioned and several were on the brink of shutting down permanently, including Kewaunee, Crystal River, San Onofre, and Vermont Yankee. Speculation is that the Fukushima disaster forced some additions to the workforce in order to meet new regulatory requirements, and new construction may have contributed to the total.

The nuclear power sector has always had a reputation of paying its employees well, and it continues to lead the electric power generation industry with an average annual payroll per employee of $111,468 in 2012. What may come as a bit of a surprise is that geothermal establishments weren’t far behind, with an average of $101,100 per employee, likely due to the majority of facilities being located in California, which has a high cost of living compared to other parts of the country.

Aaron Larson, associate editor (@AaronL_Power, @POWERmagazine)

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