Politicians promise renewable energy opportunities for ex-fossil-fuel employees, but it’s not that simple

Sean O’Leary, a native of Appalachia, is no newcomer to the boom-and-bust cycle that many mining and fossil fuel-dependent communities have seen. While much has been made about the economic impact of the loss of fossil and coal jobs, including layoffs and cities falling into disrepair, according to O’Leary, this does not convey the full cost. The true cost, he claims, is the disintegration of families as children move all across the country in search of work.

He explained, “Because when you split up a town, you’re breaking up families.” Between the years 1985 and 2020, about 130,000 coal miners who are in the United States lost their employment. By 2025, coal-fired generating is likely to face a similar reduction, and many in the energy business believe natural gas and oil jobs will be next to go. The loss of what has proven to be a vital economic lifeline for many communities in the United States has compelled the Biden government as well as many other politicians to give a promise of a “just transition,” in which millions of fresh energy and infrastructure employment will more than compensate for any jobs lost in industries of the fossil fuels. The United Mine Workers of America (UMWA) has endorsed these goals, pushing for financial incentives for renewable energy firms that hire former coal miners.

Such assurances, according to O’Leary, who is currently a senior researcher at Ohio River Valley Institute focusing on the energy and economic growth, give energy employees false optimism. While new employment will undoubtedly be produced in the expanding renewable energy business, O’Leary and other specialists in the area warn that these roles will not, on the whole, be filled by former fossil fuel workers. Attempting to compel a workforce transformation that isn’t feasible will merely perpetuate the boom-bust cycle. Instead, they argue, policymakers and business leaders should concentrate on bolstering communities and assisting individuals in choosing a new vocation from as many possibilities as feasible.

As per Suzanne Tegen, who works as the assistant director of Colorado State University’s Center for the New Energy Economy, coal mining and power facility operations are far from unskilled labor. Although many professions do not require more than high school graduation, workers quickly acquire a wide range of in-demand abilities, such as problem-solving and team building. When something breaks down, there’s no chance to halt by the hardware store or bring in a professional, so coal miners know how to manage heavy machinery and make successful repairs on the go. According to Tagen, their talents are easily transferable to a range of industries, including environmental cleanup and heavy construction. However, because a coal miner might be able to acquire a job constructing or maintaining wind turbines doesn’t imply they will, according to Tegen.

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