By CASEY JUNKINS
The Intelligencer and Wheeling News-Register
WHEELING, W.Va. — West Virginia lost 7,296 coal mining jobs from 2012 to 2015, the same period during which the number working in the solar power industry across the U.S. nearly doubled.
As West Virginia, Ohio and Pennsylvania continue losing coal jobs, the number of solar power workers jumped by about 51,000 in 2016 to reach 260,077 — a number that dwarfs the 65,971 total U.S. direct coal mining jobs throughout the nation in 2015, which is the last year for which the U.S. Energy Information Administration has complete information.
Despite President Donald Trump’s promises of reinvigorating the coal industry — as well as actions to relax environmental restrictions on coal by members of the Republican-controlled Congress — solar power continues to become a larger portion of the nation’s electricity portfolio. There are now about four times as many solar industry jobs as there are direct coal mining jobs in the U.S.
“With a near tripling of solar jobs since 2010, the solar industry is an American success story that has created hundreds of thousands of well-paying jobs,” Andrea Luecke, president and executive director of The Solar Foundation, said. “In 2016, we saw a dramatic increase in the solar work force across the nation, thanks to a rapid decrease in the cost of solar panels and unprecedented consumer demand for solar installations. More than ever, it’s clear that solar energy is a low-cost, reliable, super-abundant American energy source that is driving economic growth, strengthening businesses, and making our cities smarter and more resilient.”
Based in Washington, D.C., the foundation describes itself as a nonprofit organization with a mission to increase the usage of solar power. Data show that in 2010, there were 119,016 solar workers in the U.S., compared to 89,838 direct coal workers.
By 2015, these numbers changed to 208,859 solar workers and 65,971 coal miners. Because hundreds more miners have lost their jobs since then, including those affected by the closure of the Powhatan No. 6 Mine late last year, the disparity seems destined to grow — at least in the short-term because solar added 51,000 jobs last year.
To no surprise, most solar jobs are in California, a state whose voters preferred Democrat Hillary Clinton over Trump in the November general election by nearly a two-to-one margin. Other heavily Democrat states such as New York and Massachusetts also rank highly with solar jobs, but so do sun-drenched Florida and Texas, both carried by Trump.
“Solar is an important part of our ever expanding clean energy economy in Massachusetts, supporting thousands of high-skilled careers across the commonwealth,” Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker, a Republican, said. “Through the continued development of solar incentive programs, Massachusetts is positioned to double the amount of solar for half the cost to ratepayers and maintain our position as one of the best states in the country for energy diversity.”
“More and more business leaders and investors recognize that climate change presents both risks and opportunities, but they need better information to make informed decisions,” added Michael Bloomberg, founder of Bloomberg L.P. and three-term mayor of New York City.
Ohio ranks 11th in the number of solar jobs, as it grew its total from 4,811 in 2015 to 5,831 in 2016. West Virginia, meanwhile, ranks 45th in the number of solar jobs, at only 349 in 2015 and 381 in 2016.
Seemingly the polar opposite of California, West Virginia voted overwhelmingly in favor of Trump amid his promises of a coal renaissance.
“This election outcome is more than West Virginia’s coal industry could have hoped for,” said West Virginia Coal Association President Bill Raney said regarding Trump. “We have a lot of miners and workers in supporting businesses who are out of work right now. We look forward to working with the Trump administration and the 115th Congress to get our folks back to work.”
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