As Wind Power Lifts Wyoming’s Fortunes, Coal Miners Are Left in the Dust

Source: By CORAL DAVENPORT, New York Times • Posted: Monday, June 20, 2016

Train cars for carrying coal at a loading area at Peabody Energy’s Rawhide Mine, outside Gillette, Wyo. Peabody Energy filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy in April. Kristina Barker for The New York Times 

GILLETTE, Wyo. — After Kullin Orcutt lost his job at the Peabody coal mine this spring, he knew what he needed to do: join the exodus. “Leave Gillette, leave the state,” he said.

Mr. Orcutt is a third-generation miner and one of 592 coal workers who have been laid off here since January. Thousands more job cuts are expected this summer.

More people will follow Mr. Orcutt. While many businesses in Gillette are struggling to stay open, a U-Haul dealer has been nearly sold out since the school year ended this month.

But 200 miles to the southwest, in Carbon County, where Wyoming’s first coal mine opened a century ago, the mood is different. The last coal mine closed a decade ago, but the county may soon be home to the largest wind farm in North America, if not the world.

“Coal is hurting, but wind power is our bright spot on the horizon,” said Cindy Wallace, the director of the Carbon County Economic Development Corporation. “Eventually, we could be the wind capital of Wyoming, the U.S., the world.”

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In Wyoming, the country’s biggest coal-producing state, the energy landscape is transforming along with the nation’s, but in a state of 584,000 people, that change is happening at hyperspeed.

That transition has left men like Mr. Orcutt behind. The new positions and financial opportunities offered by wind and other new-energy industries are not replacing all the jobs going up in coal smoke.

A neighborhood in Gillette, Wyo. Businesses are struggling to stay open and many people are leaving town. Kristina Barker for The New York Times 

Many of the current jobs are out of state, at wind turbine factories in Colorado and Iowa. Millions of dollars’ worth of out-of-state investments are flowing into Wyoming’s wind projects, but much of the profit will flow out of state, as well. The thousands of coal workers who will probably lose their jobs do not necessarily have the technical skills to operate wind farms. In any case, new wind jobs will number in the hundreds, not the thousands.