Growth in green energy jobs outpaces coal industry losses

Source: By McClatchy Washington Bureau • Posted: Monday, April 27, 2015

WASHINGTON — Far more jobs have been created in wind and solar businesses in recent years than were lost in the collapse of the coal industry, and renewable-energy companies expect record growth in the United States this year.

“I started this company in 2009, and I have seen tremendous growth since then,” said John Billingsley, chief executive of Tri-Global Energy in Dallas.

Billingsley built his business on wind energy, which generated more than 10 percent of the electricity in Texas last year. He said he is hiring more workers to expand into solar power.

Researchers at Duke University, using data from renewable energy trade associations, estimate in a study published in the journal Energy Policy that more than 79,000 direct and spinoff jobs were created from wind and solar electricity generation from 2008 to 2012.

That compares with an estimate of 49,530 coal industry job losses, according to the study.

“The capacity growth in wind was amazing, and the growth in solar has been absolutely phenomenal,” said Lincoln Pratson, professor of earth and ocean sciences at Duke’s Nicholas School of the Environment.

But the region hardest hit by the decline of the coal industry, Appalachia, is getting few green jobs.

“In West Virginia and eastern Kentucky, where a lot of the job losses have occurred, it is very rugged terrain, these are not easy places to set up wind and solar facilities. They are heavily forested,” Pratson said.

State laws also helped drive the growth outside of Appalachia, Pratson said.

Twenty-nine states specify a percentage of renewable electricity that utilities should meet, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures, and Kentucky and West Virginia are not among them.