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Renewables to Replace Jobs in Coal Industry in US

Renewables to Replace Jobs in Coal Industry in US
August 24, 2022 Angelika Komaiszko

With the increased focus on developing renewable energy in the United States, as well as many other countries, with time the production and need of coal should reduce. While this is a great news for the environment’s future, as well as reaching Net Zero, those working within coal industry may fear for their job security. 

A study carried about by the University of Michigan (UM) has however disapproved the above fears, by stating that local wind and solar farms across United States can fully replace the coal-plant jobs that will be lost, as the nation’s power-generation system moves away from fossil fuels in the coming decades [1].

Figure 1: Wind Farm. [3]

The University of Michigan Study

Taking into consideration that as of 2019, coal-fired electricity generation employed directly nearly 80,000 workers at more than 250 plants in 43 US states, the study carried out by the UM provided proof that those potentially lost jobs can be salvaged. 

While this is incredible news, the study confirms that keeping employment local would increase the costs of replacing US workers by $83 billion, or 24% nationwide. Although putting into perspective the incredible impact and long-term financial benefits of solar and wind developments, the increased costs hold value. The UM’s senior author of School for Environment and Sustainability, Michael Craig stated that:

“These costs are significant in isolation but are small relative to annual U.S. power investments of $70 billion and to the total costs of transitioning the U.S. energy system away from fossil fuels, which have been estimated to be as high as $900 billion by 2030,” said study senior author Michael Craig of U-M’s School for Environment and Sustainability. Our results indicate that replacing lost jobs in coal-plant communities would modestly increase overall energy-transition costs while significantly furthering a just transition for one category of frontline communities.” [2].

A More In-Depth Look into Coal

Due to electric power being the cheapest sector to decarbonise, much of the early US emissions reductions have come from that sector, largely influenced by the shift from coal to natural gas in the electricity-generation mix. 

Many decarbonisation pathways retire most, or all US coal-fired power plants within the next 10 to 20 years. Electricity generation from those retired plants will need to be replaced by new, low-carbon sources of energy. 

Conclusion 

Despite the rapid growth of wind and solar power in the United States, previous research has not quantified the feasibility and costs of replacing coal jobs with local wind and solar jobs across the country. The new UM study therefore opens the doors to the topic and is helping to fill the research gaps. The research applies a “bottom-up” optimisation model to all coal plants in the contiguous US and assumes a full phase-out of the US coal-fleet fleet by 2030. 

The U-M researchers state that federal policymakers could introduce a new investment tax credit to help defray the costs of achieving local replacement of coal with renewables. Such a credit would only apply to wind and solar projects that are located near retiring coal plants and that employ retrained coal-plant workers.

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References

[1] Andrew McCollum, (Aug 2022), Local Renewable Energy Employment Can Fully Replace US Coal Jobs Nationwide, News Update. 

[2] University of Michigan, (August 2022), Local renewable energy employment can fully replace U.S. coal jobs nationwide, study finds, Science Daily.

[3] DiamondIIIXX, (31 October 2021), Photo of Coopers Gap Wind Farm, WikiMedia Commons. Accessed Via: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Coopers_Gap_Wind_Farm-2.jpg.

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