Feb 5, 2020 - Energy & Environment

Wind and solar would struggle to replace coal-mining jobs

Illustration of a wind turbine with a help wanted sign falling off it

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

A global transition is underway from coal to renewable energy, but a corresponding jobs shift is far less certain.

Driving the news: Wind-industry jobs aren’t a “feasible” replacement for local coal-mining jobs in the world’s four biggest coal-producing nations, and although solar is better situated than wind, it would require a massive buildout, a new peer-reviewed report finds.

Why it matters: As the world moves to cleaner kinds of energy, concern is growing about what happens to the people employed in heavy-polluting industries, especially coal. Indeed, such a progression is already rapidly underway in America.

How it works: The report, published last month in the Environmental Research Letters journal, analyzed the wind and solar resources of coal-mining regions in the U.S., China, India and Australia.

  • Noting that most coal miners don’t migrate when they’re laid off, the report sought to answer the question of whether renewable-energy jobs could be created in the same areas where coal is mined.
  • It concluded that it’s just not windy enough in those countries’ coal-mining regions for wind energy to be a viable replacement.
  • Solar was better situated for replacing coal-mining jobs in Australia, India and America, but not in China.

By the numbers... In the U.S.:

  • Nearly two-thirds — 62% — of coal-mining areas are suitable for solar power.
  • To ensure miners in those areas could transition to solar, 143 gigawatts of solar power — or nearly three times America’s current capacity of solar — would be needed.
  • That would mean at least two-thirds of current coal miners could transition to solar-energy jobs — assuming the buildout and necessary retraining — occurs.
  • Wyoming is the only state in the U.S. where wind jobs could be a feasible option for coal miners.

Go deeper: Coal miners being trained to work in alternative energy

Go deeper