Coal Tattoo

Searching for green jobs for the coalfields

Evell Meade, left, of Kermit, W.Va., and Mitch Mitchell, right, of Charleston, W.Va., carry a solar panel into a doctor’s office Wednesday, Feb. 2, 2011 in Williamson, W.Va. A group devoted to creating alternative energy jobs in Central Appalachia is building a first for West Virginia’s southern coalfields region this week: a rooftop solar array, assembled by unemployed and underemployed coal miners and contractors. (AP Photo/Jeff Gentner)

Yesterday, the National Mining Association took its shot at imposing the view that the only way out of the nation’s economic mess is more coal and more coal-fired power plants. Of course, the NMA’s views ignore the reality of global warming and — for folks here in Central Appalachia — the very real declines in coal production expected by the end of this decade.

So I thought Coal Tattoo readers might be interested in checking out this guest post on Joe Romm’s Climate Progress blog, which outlines some very interesting points about the green economy, including:

There are already 2.7 million jobs across the clean economy. Clean energy is already proving to be larger job creation engine than the heavily subsidized fossil-fuels sector, putting Americans back to work in a lackluster economy.

— Across a range of clean energy projects, including renewable energy, transit, and energy efficiency, for every million dollars spent, 16.7 green jobs are created. That is over three times the 5.3 jobs per million dollars that are created from the same spending on fossil-fuel industries.

— The clean energy sector is growing at a rate of 8.3 percent. Solar thermal energy expanded by 18.4 percent annually from 2003 to 2010, along with solar photovoltaic power by 10.7 percent, and biofuels by 8.9 percent over the same period. Meanwhile, the U.S. wind energy industry saw 35 percent average annual growth over the past five years, accounting for 35 percent of new U.S. power capacity in that period, according to the 2010 U.S. Wind Industry Annual Market Report. As a whole, the clean energy sector’s average growth rate of 8.3 percent annually during this period was nearly double the growth rate of the overall economy during that time.

— Median wages are 13 percent higher in green energy careers than the economy average. Median salaries for green jobs are $46,343, or about $7,727 more than the median wages across the broader economy. As an added benefit, nearly half of these jobs employ workers with a less than a four-year college degree, which accounts for a full 70 percent of our workforce.

Now, you don’t hear many political leaders or business boosters in West Virginia talking about these things. They’re too busy smokestack chasing for a natural gas “cracker” plant, despite the continuing questions about whether the boom-and-bust of that sort of economy is the right way to go.

But groups like The Jobs Project, working with companies like Mountain View Solar, can make a difference, as we’ve reported here on Coal Tattoo before.

And energy efficiency efforts alone could create 60,000 new jobs in Appalachia over the next five years, according to a report prepared for the Appalachian Regional Commission (subscription required). We’ve also talked many times about the prospects for wind power in places like the Coal River Valley.

And what if we really started spending big money from the Abandoned Mine Lands program to clean up the coal industry’s old messes across the region? Think of the jobs that could create.

Not for nothing, but one report also projected that carbon capture and storage, or CCS, could create 74,000 U.S. jobs by 2030. But CCS isn’t going to happen as long as industry groups like the National Mining Association oppose efforts in Congress or by EPA to put a price on carbon dioxide emissions from coal-fired power plants.