Nearly 2.7 million Americans work directly for the electric power industry while roughly five percent of the nation’s jobs are linked to the sector somehow, according to a new report released this month.
The electric power industry altogether contributes about $880 billion annually to U.S. gross domestic product, itself about 5 percent of the total national GDP, reads the findings from consulting firm M.J. Bradley & Associates’ report, “Powering America: The Economic and Workforce Contributions of the U.S. Electric Power Industry.”
The tally was conducted for the Edison Electric Institute, the American Public Power Association and the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association. Results indicate that the electric power sector also spends deeply on infrastructure and at a quickening pace.
“In 2016, the industry’s capital investments exceeded $135 billion—a level of investment that is more than twice what it was a decade ago,” the report reads. “These investments benefit customers and support jobs dedicated to building smarter energy infrastructure and to creating a cleaner generation fleet. Many of the individuals who support and build infrastructure projects are represented by organized labor.”
In 2015, the median income for electric power industry jobs hovered around $73,000—twice the national median. Benefits lifted that total closer to $100,000, according to the Bradley report. Many of those employees have been working for their companies 15 years or longer, indicating job stability in the ever changing economy.
“The electric power industry is one of the great American success stories and provides high-quality jobs that empower our nation’s economic growth. Behind every wall outlet or light switch, there is a dedicated workforce focused on powering the lives of millions of Americans who rely on electricity for nearly everything they do,” said Michael J. Bradley, president and founder of M.J. Bradley & Associates, in a statement. “Understanding the industry’s value, economic contributions, and changing nature is crucial to policy decisions related to employment and economic growth.”
More growth potential and financial challenges are on the way, despite falling demand for traditional revenue sources. A Washington State University Energy Program report from 2013 estimated that the sector will need to invest about $1.5 trillion on upgrading grid infrastructure through 2030.
Yet the Bradley report says even that is a bargain for the consumer.
“It is important to note that, while the industry is making significant investments, electricity remains a great value,” it reads. “In 2016, residential electricity’s share of total consumer expenditures was only 1.4 percent, the lowest it has been in the last 58 years. This means that for every dollar of customer expenditures, less than a penny and a half went to pay electric bills.”
Not to be bogged down completely in macroeconomics, the Bradley report also focuses on numerous personal stories from within the electric power sector. Those include short profiles on employees with American Electric Power, Arizona Public Service, Southside Electric Cooperative (Virginia), Georgia Power, Great River Energy (Minnesota) and Bryan Texas Utilities (BTU), among many others.
One profile focused on Michele Kimrich, an agriculture business major who is now a meter data analyst for BTU. She first worked in accounts and billing before becoming attracted to the value of data for the electric power industry.
“The meter data measures the vital signs and determines the health of a utility,” she is quoted as saying.
Engineers, lineworkers, plant and field operators and technicians make up about 44 percent of the energy power sector workforce, according to 2015 data used in the report. Engineers typically make close to $44 per hour.
In addition to those considered company direct workers, the sector also employs 1.7 million contractors and supply chain employees directly or induced from spending, according to the report.