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Job Retraining Only Part of KY Renewable-Energy Challenge

While Kentucky has dabbled in renewable energy, a solar expert says policy changes are needed to spur investment in the industry. (Berea Municipal Utilities)
While Kentucky has dabbled in renewable energy, a solar expert says policy changes are needed to spur investment in the industry. (Berea Municipal Utilities)
September 8, 2016

FRANKFORT, Ky. — A new study finds that if the U.S. energy supply went 100 percent renewable, 75,000 workers in the coal industry - including nearly 12,000 in Kentucky - would need to find new jobs.

Researchers from two universities - Oregon State and Michigan Tech - said that if investments are made to retrain workers, growth in solar- and wind-related jobs could easily absorb coal-industry layoffs over the next 15 years. But Andy McDonald, past president of the Kentucky Solar Energy Society, said it won't be easy in Kentucky, because the clean-energy industry is small here.

"The state really needs to put in place policies that support the development of the renewable-energy sector,” McDonald said. "You have to provide the incentives for businesses to create these jobs for people to go into."

McDonald said Kentucky's first step should be implementing a Renewable Energy and Energy Efficiency Portfolio Standard. That would require utilities to gradually increase their use and purchase of renewable energy - something already being done in 29 states.

According to the study, the solar industry employs more than 200,000 people nationwide and is creating jobs 12 times faster than the overall economy.

Report co-author and researcher at Oregon State Edward Louie said their research also compared solar positions and salaries to their closest equivalents in coal. For example, according to Louie, a coal operations engineer could be retrained to be a manufacturing technician in solar, and expect about a 10 percent pay increase.

"Obviously, there are some jobs that are very specific to coal mining,” Louie acknowledged, "and those workers will probably need some retraining to find a job in the renewable-energy industry."

The study also notes a coal CEO's annual salary would be more than enough to retrain every company employee for a job in renewables. Louie said other possible funding sources include federal and state dollars. And he said coal workers also could choose to pay for training themselves.


Greg Stotelmyer , Public News Service - KY