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Coal workers could have a sunny future in renewables

A new study published in Energy Economics has found there is significant potential for high-quality employment for coal workers in a rapidly expanding solar photovoltaic industry.

Researchers from Michigan Technological University and Oregon State University researched what it would take to retrain workers from a different energy field.

“Although coal investors can simply call their brokers to move their money to more profitable industries, coal workers are left with pink slips and mortgages,” researcher Joshua Pearce from Michigan Tech said. “Fortunately, the solar energy industry sector is growing at an incredible rate – and they are hiring.”

Along with co-author Edward Louie of the School of Public Policy at Oregon State University, Pearce found that the growth of solar-related employment in the US could absorb the layoffs in the coal industry over the next 15 years.

To determine this, Louie and Pearce compared existing coal industry jobs – and the salaries and skill sets of these positions – to ones in the solar industry. Then they estimated the cost of returning to school and retraining.

“Many of these coal miners have transferable skill sets already,” said Christopher Turek, director of Solar Energy International. “These range from mechanical and electrical expertise, all the way to their confidence in working in a highly technical field with a strong focus on safety.”

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