Wednesday, June 22, 2016

Alternative energy in Wyoming doesn't mean alternative jobs for displaced coal miners

While the coal and wind energy industries are on opposite trajectories, out of work coal miners struggle to find gainful employment in clean energy.

About 66 percent of U.S. electricity is still produced by burning coal and natural gas; just 7 percent comes from renewable sources such as wind and solar, The New York Times reports. But market forces and government regulations are rapidly changing the energy landscape.

President Obama's climate change regulations, the Clean Power Plan, have taken direct aim at coal. The Department of the Interior has halted new mines on public lands. In addition, the international Paris agreement on climate change could make efforts to end the burning of coal a global campaign.

These policies are closing the remaining coal-fired plants and freezing the construction of new ones, but they also aim to aggressively increase the production of renewable power. The Clean Power Plan has a goal for 20 percent of the nation’s electricity to come from wind, solar and other clean sources by 2030. Hillary Clinton, presumptive Democratic presidential nominee, has pledged to raise that amount to 33 percent by 2027, The Times reports.

In Wyoming, for example, about 600 coal miners have been laid off this year alone, and thousands more job cuts are expected this summer, the Times noted. In with a population of fewer than 600,000 people, those cuts are taking a toll.

Wyoming also offers prime real estate for wind farms. The Anschutz Corp. is set to begin construction later this year or early 2017 on a Carbon County wind farm that will cover some 2,000 acres. When completed, it will be the largest wind power producer in North America, generating enough electricity to power about a million homes, the Times reports. Construction will create about 900 seasonal jobs over the course of the decade it's expected to take to complete and then about 150 full-time jobs to operate and maintain it.

If payroll cuts in Wyoming's coal industry continue as predicted, the number of jobs created by wind farms will not match the number lost in coal, and the vast majority of wind jobs are temporary. Also, the limited number of full-time wind jobs don't pay as well in general as those in coal. A wind turbine technician makes an average of about $51,000 per year, compared to $82,000 for coal miners.

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