Wyoming News Service

August 23, 2016Available files: mp3 wav jpg

Study: Renewable Industry Could Absorb Coal Layoffs

Eric Galatas

CHEYENNE, Wyo. - 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 by researchers at Oregon State University and the Michigan Technological University.

Edward Louie, the report's co-author and a researcher at Oregon State University, said between solar and wind, Wyoming 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 said.

Louie noted coal jobs have become increasingly at risk because of falling natural-gas prices and new EPA rules targeting coal-fired power plants to limit climate pollution. He said if the U.S. goes completely renewable, some 6,500 workers in Wyoming, 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 said a coal operations engineer, for example, could retrain to be a manufacturing technician in solar and expect about a ten 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 added.

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

The full report can be read here.