Wind energy capacity in the U.S. grew by 8,358 MW last year, an impressive 50 percent jump in total capacity. This trend was accompanied by a 35 percent increase in jobs in the industry. Unlike trends in many industries, career opportunities are expected to expand, as wind power plays a key role in President Obama’s goal of doubling renewable energy production within three years, renewable portfolio standards are met, and stimulus funding is utilized.
Currently about 7 million households are powered by wind energy and 85,000 people were employed by the wind energy industry, up from 50,000 the previous year, according to the American Wind Energy Association. These jobs are very diverse, and include turbine manufacturing, wind farm development, wind farm construction, and turbine maintenance.
Developing an industrial-scale wind farm requires a team of people with a variety of abilities. This seven part series will examine the skills needed achieve this feat. The first job we will explore in this series is project developer.
This person oversees and brings together numerous aspects of a wind farm development. “I oversee land acquisition, engineering, permitting, and turbine micrositing decisions,” says Curt Bjurlin, Senior Wind Developer for EcoEnergy LLC, when describing his role. “I have both field and office staff who work for me to develop projects.”
A person in this role must be able to wear many hats. “In any given day, I might be reviewing legal documents, meeting with landowners, working on permitting, or securing contracts. Project developers also negotiate with potential investors and power purchasers,” says Bjurlin.
The ideal person for this position must be very organized and have an ability and interest in speaking with a wide variety of people. “It’s an amazing opportunity to be in the role I’m in,” says Taylor Henderson, Project Developer for Renewable Energy Systems America Inc. “One day I’m out speaking with farmers and ranchers who own the property in which we are working and the next day I’m at a function speaking with elected officials.”
It is therefore crucial for project developers to be effective working with a variety of people. “It’s important to have strong communications skills, be an active listener, and be willing to ask question of people you are in a conversation with,” says Henderson.
“I think the core skills for a developer are an ability to see the big picture, to focus on the complete project and not individual portions to the exclusion of others,” says Bjurlin. “In my experience, the key qualities for a project developer are vision and tenacity.”
In addition, Bjurlin considers an understanding of finance, agriculture, engineering, planning, permitting, renewable energy, policy and law to be important, although it is rare for someone to have knowledge in every area.
Sarah Lozanova is passionate about the new green economy and is a regular contributor to environmental and energy publications and websites, including Energy International Quarterly, ThinkGreen.com, Triple Pundit, Green Business Quarterly, Renewable Energy World, and Green Business Quarterly. Her experience includes work with small-scale solar energy installations and utility-scale wind farms. She earned an MBA in sustainable management from the Presidio Graduate School and is a co-founder of Trees Across the Miles, an urban reforestation initiative.