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❝ The global economy is in a massive transition from a fossil-fuel-based energy system to one using sophisticated renewable energy technologies. For tens of thousands of fossil fuel workers, though, the energy industry outlook is not promising. For coal industry workers, the future looks particularly bleak. However, research I conducted with Edward Louie of Oregon State University offers hope for a better future based on retraining workers. Our study…quantified the costs and benefits of retraining coal workers for employment in the rapidly expanding solar photovoltaic industry — and it explores different ways to pay for this retraining.
❝ …As coal investors have fled in droves to invest in more profitable companies and industries, coal workers have been left with pink slips and mortgages on houses with few buyers in blighted coal country. It is clear that coal is no longer a competitive form of electrical generation.
The one energy sector that is growing at an incredible rate is the solar industry — and it is hiring.
❝ For decades the solar industry has battled against enormous government subsidies for coal. But because of the tremendous drop in costs for solar technology, solar adoption is now rising rapidly. Bloomberg reports that the American solar industry had a record first quarter in 2016, and for the first time, it drove the majority of new power generation. The U.S. solar industry is creating a lot of jobs, bringing on new workers 12 times faster than the overall economy…
Our study found that this growth of solar-related employment could benefit coal workers, by easily absorbing the coal-industry layoffs over the next 15 years and offering full-time careers.
❝ Using data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, we looked at all current coal industry positions – from engineers to mining and power plant operators to administrative workers – the skill sets required for each…and their respective average salaries. For each type of coal position, we determined the closest equivalent solar position and salary. For example, an operations engineer in the coal industry could retrain to be a manufacturing technician in solar and expect about a 10% salary increase. Similarly, explosive workers, ordinance handlers, and blasters in the coal industry could use their sophisticated safety experience and obtain additional training to become commercial solar technicians and earn about 11% more on average.
Our results show that there is a wide variety of employment opportunities in the solar industry, and that the annual pay is attractive at all levels of education, with even the lowest skilled jobs paying a living wage (e.g., janitors in the coal industry could increase their salaries by 7% by becoming low-skilled mechanical assemblers in the solar industry). In general, we found that after retraining, technical workers would make more in the solar industry than previously in coal…
❝ The results of the study show that a relatively minor investment ($180 million to $1.8 billion, based on best and worst case scenarios) in retraining would allow the vast majority of U.S. coal workers to switch to solar-related positions. Of course, training times depend on type of job and prior experience…
❝ Workers in any declining industry can learn from the coal industry. They can provide themselves valuable job security insurance by preemptively retraining, and there are numerous opportunities for online training – and even working – in a wide variety of fields. Businesses in tangential industries may also want to consider retraining their own workers — electric utilities, for example, can retrain their coal-fired power plant workers for positions involving utility-scale solar farms
Yes, I think these folks at Harvard are a little naive about voluntary retraining by our coal barons. From the Koch Bros to the Petroleum Club – they couldn’t care a rat’s ass about the workers they lay off. Profits, profits, tax breaks – and more profits is what counts. It’s why they buy and sell politicians from both of the two old parties. Results count more than ideology.
No, we’ll need to light a fire under state and federal politicians to get retraining rolling. And not only in fossil fuels. Send the bill to the bubbas taking the profits from over the years.