Capitalism is hurting the coal industry more than any policy or regulation possibly could. Natural gas is cheaper and safer to produce. Renewable energy solutions have become so inexpensive that their growth has disrupted the power industry worldwide.
Roughly 66% of new energy production worldwide comes not from coal or natural gas, but from renewable sources like solar, wind, and hydro.
The demand for renewable energy is high and growing right now, and the free market will work to supply it. Coal is not in demand. At least, not as much.
Here in the United States, we witnessed a historic Presidential campaign centered around the idea that we can bring back coal jobs and revitalize regions of our nation affected most by the decline of the coal industry.
President Trump ran on a promise that he (and he alone) could resurrect hundreds of thousands of coal jobs by eliminating regulations and cutting taxes. He vaguely outlined a plan to turn the clock back on restrictions put on coal plants and mines intended to curve the growth of climate change.
The Bureau of Labor Statistics shows an uptick in coal jobs since July of 2016, but as of September of 2017, the total number of coal jobs sits at 52,100. That’s nationwide, and a far cry from the 89,600 jobs that existed in November, 2011.
As of July, the total provable number of new coal jobs since Trump’s administration took over is 800. By contrast, the last six months of the Obama administration saw 1,300 additional coal jobs. So, in six months, the growth of the industry actually slowed rather than accelerated.
A recent report from Reuters as reported by Business Insider suggests that a lot of out-of-work coal miners are rejecting retraining programs being offered to them.
This is due to the belief that President Trump will find a way to successfully revitalize the coal industry in counties that have been hit the hardest by its decline.
Retraining would enable miners to pursue gainful employment in other fields, often with comparable income. This includes fields like cybersecurity, truck driving, and engineering.
All news here isn’t bad, though. Some former coal miners have taken advantage of these retraining opportunities, and have found gainful employment in fields like computer programming.
A startup called Bit Source was created specifically to create an opportunity for talent in communities that have been decimated by declining industries such as coal to learn new skills and find gainful employment in an industry that is growing.
In Bit Source’s case, it offered new employees 22 weeks of training on the company dime. This enabled people that have never coded before to learn the skills they need to become valued assets to the business.
Where most companies would seek out experienced talent that can start on day one, Bit Source found talent in a group of dedicated, hardworking individuals pushed out of their industry.
The biggest employer in the energy industry right now is solar. In recent years, it has expanded so much that it has overtaken natural gas, oil, and coal to provide more employment opportunities than any other energy source.
Until recently, coal jobs paid more than solar. Today, because of the explosive growth of solar and demand for workers, solar employees can earn about 10% more than their coal counterparts. There are exceptions to this trend, however.
Solar is also safer. Coal miners face a number of hazards during their work that can last well beyond their careers, solar is very different.
Does this mean that solar energy is the silver bullet to jobs growth and building a better America? Not exactly, but it is one component of a greater strategy to move forward. To move away from fossil fuels that threaten the stability of our climate, and to progress towards greater energy independence for our country.
Oh, and make lots of money in the process.