The energy that is generated from coal needs to keep decreasing relative to alternative energy sources if we want to reduce the release of pollutants and greenhouse gases into the atmosphere and rely on renewables instead. But for many people working in the coal industry, this change represents unemployment and poverty. In Colorado, a plan to train coal workers for solar energy jobs may be able to ameliorate the situation. Lea Terhune reports for Share America:
What does greater use of green energy mean for workers in more traditional energy sectors? A Colorado initiative may have the answer: put the workers where the jobs are. Consider the findings of Michigan Technological University professor Joshua M. Pearce and associates: There are nearly 209,000 solar workers in the United States, compared to about 150,000 remaining jobs in the coal industry. Hence Colorado’s plan: train unemployed coal workers to install solar panels.
“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,” Pearce writes in the Harvard Business Review.
Upgrading to clean energy tech
Coal has been a fuel of choice for more than a century, but demand has declined as electric utilities turn to cleaner sources. Wider adoption of solar, wind and other green technologies open new opportunities for displaced workers.
While some solar industry positions require a university degree in renewable energy engineering, coal workers can qualify for others with only a few weeks retraining. That’s where state, local and national initiatives can help.
Colorado, for instance, gave Solar Energy International a $400,000 matching grant as part of its program to retrain former coal, oil or gas industry workers in solar panel installation.
Solar Energy International spokesman Chris Turek told the Associated Press that the company recruited coal miners because of their experience with mechanics and electrical engineering — skills easily transferred to the solar industry.
“People are becoming more and more open to it because they’re starting to realize it’s just another part of the energy sector,” Turek said.
Renewables are growing fast
Solar is the fastest-growing U.S. electricity source, says an annual report by the American Petroleum Institute. Jobs in that sector are projected to double in five years.
The trend is clear. Large oil companies like BP, ExxonMobil, ConocoPhillips and Total SA are investing in wind and solar energy facilities, and feeding the renewable energy job market.
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