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Brazilian Winds Fuel Green Job Creation

SÃO PAULO, Nov 9 2011 (IPS) - The term “green jobs”, coined to describe employment that contributes in some way to preserving or restoring the environment, is increasingly entering the vocabulary of companies keen to respond to the social demand for a cleaner economy.

Wind farm under construction in Bom Jardim da Serra, in the southern Brazilian state of Santa Catarina.  Credit: Courtesy of Abeeólica

Wind farm under construction in Bom Jardim da Serra, in the southern Brazilian state of Santa Catarina. Credit: Courtesy of Abeeólica

Brazil has not been left behind by this trend. According to the International Labour Organisation (ILO), there are more than 2.6 million jobs in the Brazilian formal labor market that meet these criteria, and provide employment for 6.7 percent of the workforce.

A study on green jobs published by the ILO country office in Brazil predicts that the number of these jobs will increase significantly in the medium term.

Renewable energies account for almost 550,000 of the current green jobs in Brazil and constitute one of the market niches that contribute most to the prospects for growth.

While biomass (sugar cane production) and large hydroelectric power plants are the main “green” employers today, much of the growth in the renewable energy sector will be fueled by wind turbines.

What places wind power at the forefront of other energy sources is the fact that it offers decent work, one of the ILO’s prerequisites for a job to be considered genuinely “green”.

“Providing employees with fair working conditions is key. The wind power sector is made up of large projects that primarily offer formal employment,” Paulo Sérgio Muçouçah, coordinator of the ILO’s decent work and green jobs programme in Brazil, told Tierramérica.

“The fact that workers are officially registered and guaranteed their rights makes it possible to classify their jobs as decent work. Both the sugar cane industry and hydroelectric plants have a record of labor conflicts, both on the plantations and in the construction of dams,” he noted. “This puts them at a disadvantage compared to wind power.”

The share of wind power in the worldwide energy mix has increased almost 32-fold over the course of 15 years.

But in Brazil, growth has been much more timid. Although the South American giant’s winds could generate 300 gigawatts (GW) of power, according to the Atlas of Brazilian Wind Energy Potential, by May of this year installed capacity stood at barely 1 GW (one billion watts).

The government’s Ten-Year Energy Plan sets a target of 12 GW by 2020. For the Brazilian Wind Energy Association (Abeeólica), this goal is far too modest. “In fact, we are hoping to almost double it and reach around 22 GW. This growth needs to continue in order to consolidate the national industry,” Élbia Melo, the executive president of Abeeólica, told Tierramérica.

At present, the sector provides almost 13,000 direct and indirect jobs, distributed between the generation and distribution of electric power service, and including the jobs created through the construction of wind farms.

“In addition to the prospects for increased employment alongside the expansion of installed capacity, there are also manufacturers of turbines and other components which represent a promising market,” said Muçouçah.

There are already three manufacturing plants established in Brazil and a number of companies have undertaken studies aimed at opening more plants, he added.

Another factor that places wind power at an advantage as a creator of employment in comparison with hydroelectric power (which currently predominates) is that the production and distribution of one terawatt (one trillion watts) of wind power an hour requires between 918 and 2,400 workers. For the same amount of electricity, hydroelectric power plants require only 250 people.

“The difference in the volume of labor does not affect the price of electricity. The extremely high costs of building hydroelectric power plants and turbines means that the end-consumer must pay for them,” said Muçouçah.

Of the 62 wind farms operating in Brazil, 43 are in the Northeast, the region preferred by the sector for new projects and related industries because of the large concentration and strength of the winds along its Atlantic coast.

“The fact that these new jobs are created in the Northeast, the poorest and least developed region of the country, makes wind energy a contributor to development which in turn makes these jobs even greener,” added the ILO representative.

In the federal government’s last energy auction, wind power plants won half of the contracts, totaling almost 2 GW, offering an average price of less than 100 reals (58 dollars) per megawatt/hour, which is below the cost of hydroelectric power.

This volume represents a major boost for the wind energy sector. But robust growth, and a consequent increase in the country’s green employment statistics, will require improved transportation systems and logistics. “These areas need to be improved to enable the large number of projects contracted,” said Melo.

Moreover, added the president of Abeeólica, “expanding the production of wind energy is a challenge that demands the governance capacity needed to explore the potential still limited by the prevailing energy paradigm, which involves major emissions of greenhouse gases.”

*The writer is a Tierramérica contributor. This story was originally published by Latin American newspapers that are part of the Tierramérica network. Tierramérica is a specialised news service produced by IPS with the backing of the United Nations Development Programme, United Nations Environment Programme and the World Bank.

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