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Study Finds Lost Coal Jobs Could Be Absorbed by Renewable Sector

A new study says many unemployed coal workers can be retrained to work in renewable industries, including solar. (World Resource Institute)
A new study says many unemployed coal workers can be retrained to work in renewable industries, including solar. (World Resource Institute)
August 26, 2016

CHARLESTON, W. Va. - The growth of solar- and wind-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. That's according to a new study from Oregon State University and the Michigan Technological University.

Dan Whitten, vice president of communications for the Solar Energy Industries Association, said the country just reached the one-millionth solar installation, and it isn't slowing down.

"It took us 40 years to get there," he said. "We think in the next two years, we're going to hit 2 million and by 2021, we will be at 4.5 million installations, so we're really growing rapidly. We think over that period of time, the number of solar jobs will more than double."

According to the study, the solar industry is expected to add 345 megawatts of solar power over the next five years. But the authors found the new renewable jobs are not happening equally in every state, and state policies designed to draw investment have a big impact.

Whitten said states that have been heavily reliant on coal will have to step up their game to help keep people employed.

"The Solar Foundation has a program called Solar Ready Vets that trains veterans for solar energy work," he added. "There are community programs that train people to work in the solar industry, but it's not as pervasive as it needs to be. That's going to be something that we're going to have to turn our attention to and focus on."

Steve O'Rourke, a vice president of business development at Microgrid Energy, said the renewable-energy sector welcomes the idea of employing former coal workers who want to make the transition.

"The person who's working as an accountant at Peabody Energy could just as easily work as an accountant for Microgrid Energy, so those people would be easily retrained," he said. "People who are working in a mine, to train them to install solar arrays, you know, that's going to be somewhat significant retraining."

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

The full study can be read here.

Dan Heyman, Public News Service - WV