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Solar Could Employ Laid Off Coal Workers, Study Finds

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Thursday, August 25, 2016   

SALT LAKE CITY – The growth of solar and wind energy related jobs could easily absorb coal industry layoffs over the next 15 years and provide full-time careers, if investments are made to retrain workers, according to a new study by researchers at the Oregon State University and the Michigan Technological University.

Edward Louie, the report's co-author, says between solar and wind, Utah is in a good position to become more energy independent and a leading exporter of renewable power.

"To transport the wind blades, to install the wind turbines – and then also all the jobs it would take to upgrade the transmission lines to handle that high percent of renewables – then there's more than enough positions," he explains.

Louie notes coal jobs have become increasingly at risk because of falling natural gas prices and new Environmental Protection Agency rules targeting coal-fired power plants to limit climate pollution.

He says if the U.S. goes completely renewable, nearly 1,400 Utah workers – and 75,000 nationally – will need to find new jobs.

The solar industry already employs more than 200,000 people and is creating jobs 12 times faster than the overall economy, according to the study, which also determined closest equivalent solar positions and salaries.

Louie says a coal operations engineer, for example, could retrain to be a manufacturing technician in solar and expect about a 10 percent salary increase.

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

The study also found that a coal CEO's annual salary would be more than enough to retrain every company employee for a job in renewables.

Louie adds other possible funding sources include federal and state dollars, and he says coal workers also could choose to pay for training themselves.





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