Renewables jobs surpass coal job losses, but it’s not ‘a one-for-one replacement’ — study 

Source: Pamela King, E&E reporter • Posted: Thursday, April 9, 2015

Employment gains in the natural gas, wind and solar sectors are more than offsetting job losses in coal — but not necessarily at the local level, researchers from Duke University have found.

In the four years following the 2008 recession, the coal industry lost 49,534 laborers, or about 12 percent of its workforce, driven by higher costs associated with subsurface mining and regulatory compliance, according to a paper published yesterday in the journal Energy Policy. Over the same time period, the natural gas, solar and wind businesses added nearly 220,000 jobs, a 21 percent increase.But few of those new positions were added in southern West Virginia and eastern Kentucky, the two regions most affected by coal unemployment, the report says. The Northeast, Southwest, Midwest and West saw the most jobs added from natural gas and renewables.”Our study shows it has not been a one-for-one replacement,” author Lincoln Pratson, a professor in Duke’s Nicholas School of the Environment, said in a statement yesterday. “The counties that were very reliant on the coal industry are now in the most difficult position.”

Pratson and research analyst Drew Haerer based their calculations of electricity generation employment on data relating to direct and indirect job changes for each industry studied. Information on solar and wind employment was collected from the industries themselves.

Analysis of those sectors is critical because they are not only changing rapidly, but also because they represent a large portion of high-paying domestic jobs — the National Mining Association’s 2013 profile of the U.S. coal miner lists hourly pay of $31.17 — and reflect the economic health of the communities in which those industries operate, Pratson and Haerer wrote.

The researchers attribute the geographic disconnect between coal jobs lost and renewable jobs gained to several factors.

“The areas where a lot of coal is mined in Appalachia, for example, are very rugged and heavily forested — not easy places to set up solar panels or wind farms,” Pratson said.

To ease economic impacts, coal communities might consider further support of renewables development at the local level, investment in clean coal technology and aid to coal workers attempting to transition to other types of work, the report recommends.

Pratson and Haerer conducted their analysis without external funding sources.