Quantcast
Energy

One Year of a Coal CEO's Salary Could Transition U.S. Coal Miners to Work in Solar Industry

With the renewable energy sector growing leaps and bounds in the U.S., many critics—ahem, Donald Trump—argue that a transition to clean power would lead to the displacement of workers in the fossil fuel industry.

Coal and coal mining is a major threat to our environmentFlickr

Admittedly, these naysayers are not exactly wrong. Coal workers are genuinely worried as mines close and high-profile coal companies declare bankruptcy. Coal jobs are indeed on the decline, with the total number of employees at U.S. coal mines dipping to 74,931 employees in 2014, a decrease of 6.8 percent from the year prior. The Obama Administration's carbon cutting policies that takes direct aim at coal plants, alongside a drop in natural gas prices are only fueling these concerns of job security.

But what if the coal industry could adapt?

In a new study published in the journal Energy Economics, researchers from Michigan Technological University and Oregon State University found that a "relatively minor investment in retraining" would allow most coal workers to switch professions to the booming and job creating solar energy sector.

"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," Joshua Pearce, the study's co-author and associate professor of materials science and engineering at Michigan Technological University, wrote in Harvard Business Review.

The investment would cost between $180 million to $1.8 billion to switch the vast majority of U.S. coal miners to solar jobs, based on best and worst case scenarios, the authors estimated. In the best case scenario, employees who have non-coal specific positions, such as secretary and electrician, could find jobs outside of the PV industry. In the worst case scenario, all employees in coal mining will be absorbed into the PV industry.

Surprisingly, the researchers found that a coal CEO's annual salary would be more than enough money to retrain every company employee to work in solar, as Green Tech Media explained from the study:

The study noted that the CEO of Consol Energy earned about $14 million in 2012, more than enough to retrain all of the company's employees for jobs in the PV industry. Arch Coal, which has filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy, paid its executives and directors more than $29 million in the year leading up to its bankruptcy filing, according to The Wall Street Journal.

Here's how the team came to the study's conclusion, as Pearce explained:

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 (for example, specific degrees and amount of work experience), 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 percent 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 percent 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 percent 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. However, managers and particularly executives would make less.

The paper found four ways to fund "coal to solar job" training:

  • Coal workers fund their own retraining
  • Coal companies pay for retraining of their own workers
  • Individual states provide "coal to solar" transition programs
  • The federal government funds retraining

The study noted that the second option would only cost 5 percent of coal company's revenue from a single year to provide "solar scholarships" to workers. Companies would also have the feel-good factor of taking care of their workers while diversifying their energy portfolios at the same time.

From a public and environmental health perspective, switching from a polluting energy source to clean, green solar would improve worker health and be better for the planet. As EcoWatch mentioned previously, coal-fired power plants are responsible for about 40 percent of the country's emissions and collectively constitute the nation's single-largest source of greenhouse gas pollution.

Naturally, this study paints a very optimistic view that a coal CEO or an entire industry would want to make such drastic changes. Green Tech Media pointed out that it would be an impressive feat to convince coal companies or government bodies to take up the study's suggestions—especially for industry-backed politicians who promote coal as a political platform.

Additionally, as Green Tech Media mentioned, workers who live in states such as West Virginia and Kentucky, which do not have robust solar markets, would be forced to move to a different, solar-friendly state. Training employees for some solar-specific jobs would also require a new degree and several years of study.

However, as Pearce noted, "The writing on the wall for the coal industry is clear."

"Price pressure from natural gas, wind and solar has been relentless," he wrote. "Increasingly stringent environmental regulations to curb pollution continue to raise the costs of coal, and public perception of the industry continues to fall. The growing threat of liability due to inherent greenhouse gas emissions that come from coal combustion may climb to the hundreds of trillions of dollars. Young coal workers, in particular, should consider retraining for a job in solar now."

On that note, Hillary Clinton, who has no plans to reverse's President Obama's climate mandates, has called for a $30 billion initiative to revive coal country partly through clean job transitions. And, in a speech Thursday in Michigan said, "Some country is going to be the clean energy superpower of the 21st century and create millions of jobs and businesses. It's probably going to be either China, Germany or America. I want it to be us!"

Show Comments ()

EcoWatch Daily Newsletter

Sponsored
Energy
Mackinac Bridge from Straits of Mackinac. Gregory Varnum / Wikimedia Commons

Michigan Gov. Signs Bill to Keep Line 5 Pipeline Flowing

Michigan's outgoing Gov. Rick Snyder signed legislation on Wednesday that creates a new government authority to oversee a proposed oil tunnel in the Straits of Mackinac to effectively allow Canadian oil to keep flowing through the Great Lakes.

The controversial tunnel will encase a replacement segment for Enbridge Energy's aging Line 5 pipelines that run along the bottom of the Straits, a narrow waterway that connects Lakes Huron and Michigan.

Keep reading... Show less
Popular
The illegal La Pampa gold mine, seen here in 2017, has devastated the Peruvian Amazon and spread poisonous mercury. Planet Labs

Unprecedented New Map Unveils Illegal Mining Destroying Amazon

A first-of-its-kind map has unveiled widespread environmental damage and contamination of the Amazon rainforest caused by the rise illegal mining.

The survey, released Monday by the Amazon Socio-Environmental Geo-Referenced Information Project (RAISG), identifies at least 2,312 sites and 245 areas of prospecting or extraction of minerals such as gold, diamonds and coltan in six Amazonian countries—Bolivia, Brazil, Colombia, Ecuador, Peru and Venezuela. It also identified 30 rivers affected by mining and related activities.

Keep reading... Show less
Animals
Mako sharks killed at the South Jersey Shark Tournament in June 2017. Lewis Pugh

Shark Fishing Tournaments Devalue Ocean Wildlife and Harm Marine Conservation Efforts

By Rick Stafford

Just over three years ago, I was clinging to a rock in 20 meters of water, trying to stop the current from pulling me out to sea. I peered out into the gloom of the Pacific. Suddenly, three big dark shapes came into view, moving in a jerky, yet somehow smooth and majestic manner. I looked directly into the left eyes of hammerhead sharks as they swam past, maybe 10 meters from me. I could see the gill slits, the brown skin. But most of all, what struck me was just how big these animals are—far from the biggest sharks in the seas, but incredibly powerfully built and solid. These are truly magnificent creatures.

Keep reading... Show less
Politics
Sen. Joe Manchin and United Mine Workers of America President Cecil Roberts held a press conference on Oct. 3, 2017. Bill Clark / CQ Roll Call

Coal-Friendly Manchin Named Top Dem on Senate Energy Panel

After weeks of discord over the potential appointment, Sen. Joe Manchin, the pro-coal Democrat of West Virginia, was named the ranking member of the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources, Sen. Chuck Schumer announced Tuesday.

Many Democrats and environmental groups were adamantly opposed to Manchin serving as the top Democrat on the committee that oversees policies on climate change, public lands and fossil fuel production.

Keep reading... Show less
Sponsored
Insights/Opinion
Hikers on the Mt. Hollywood Trail in Griffin Park, Calif. while a brush fire burned in the Angeles National Forest on Aug. 26, 2009. Mel Melcon / Los Angeles Times via Getty Images

Major Health Study Shows Benefits of Combating Climate Change

During the holiday season, people often drink toasts to health. There's something more we can do to ensure that we and others will enjoy good health now and into the future: combat climate change.

Keep reading... Show less
Energy
Employees of Rural Renewable Energy Alliance working together with students and faculty of Leech Lake Tribal Collage to construct solar panels, 2017. Ryan James White

A Tribe in Northern Minnesota Shows the Country How to Do Community Solar

By Susan Cosier

Last summer on a reservation in northern Minnesota, students from Leech Lake Tribal College earned their solar installation licenses while they dug, drilled and connected five photovoltaic arrays. The panels shine blue on the plain, reflecting the sky as they generate roughly 235 megawatts of electricity a year, enough to help 100 families pay their energy bills. This is community solar in action.

Keep reading... Show less
Sponsored
Energy
Arches National Park. Chris Dodds / Flickr / CC BY-SA 2.0

Trump Auctions Off 150,000 Acres of Public Lands for Fracking Near Utah National Parks

On Tuesday the Trump administration offered more than 150,000 acres of public lands for fossil-fuel extraction near some of Utah's most iconic landscapes, including Arches and Canyonlands national parks.

Keep reading... Show less
Climate
The Vanderford glacier in East Antarctica is one of four that is beginning to melt, according to NASA. Angela Wylie / Fairfax Media / Fairfax Media via Getty Images

Melting Discovered in East Antarctic Region Holding Ice 'Equivalent to Four Greenlands'

Ice sheets in Greenland and West Antarctica have been melting at alarming rates in recent years, but at least the glaciers of East Antarctica were believed to be relatively stable. Until now. National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) scientists have discovered that glaciers covering one-eighth of Antarctica's eastern coast have lost ice in the past 10 years. If the region keeps melting, it has enough ice in its drainage basins to add 28 meters (approximately 92 feet) to global sea level rise, BBC News reported.

Keep reading... Show less
Sponsored

mail-copy

The best of EcoWatch, right in your inbox. Sign up for our email newsletter!