The Energy Transition Is Underway. Fossil Fuel Workers Could Be Left Behind.

Tiffany Berger worked at a coal-fired power plant in Coshocton County, Ohio for over a decade, eventually becoming a unit operator earning about $100,000 a year.

But since American Power closed its factories in 2020, Berger has struggled to find comparable-paying jobs nearby. She decided to sell her house, move in with her parents, and help her parents run their farm in Newcomerstown, Ohio, about 30 minutes away.

We sell some of the corn, beans and beef we harvest, but we don’t have enough to keep the farm running. Berger, 39, started working part-time at a local fertilizer and seed company last year, but she was making just a third of what she used to earn. She said she “didn’t dream” that her factory would be closed.

“I thought I was going to retire,” Berger said. “It’s a power plant. I mean, everybody needs power.”

The United States is undergoing a rapid transition away from fossil fuels, with new battery plants, wind and solar projects, and more. Investing in clean energy It occurs all over the country. The broad climate legislation Democrats passed last year could be even more effective in reducing fossil fuel emissions than Biden administration officials estimate.

This transition is projected to create hundreds of thousands of people, clean energy jobsFor many workers and counties that have relied on coal, oil and gas for economic stability, it could be devastating.

estimated value of potential unemployment Projections for the next few years vary, but according to Bureau of Labor Statistics data, nearly 900,000 workers will be directly employed in the fossil fuel industry by 2022.

The Biden administration is primarily trying to mitigate the impact by granting additional tax incentives to renewable energy projects built in areas vulnerable to the energy transition.

But some economists, climate researchers and union leaders said they were skeptical that the effort would be enough.Outside of construction, wind farms and solar farms typically require a small number of workers to operate, and new clean energy jobs are not always offered. equal pay or align using skills workers who have been laid off.

Coal-fired power plants have been shut down for years already, and the national coal production It has declined since its peak in the late 2000s. US coal-fired power capacity is about 50 percent It will reach current levels by 2030, according to the Energy Information Administration. about 41,000 workers remain Coal mining has declined from about 177,000 in the mid-1980s.

The demise of the industry is not only a problem for workers, but also for communities that have long relied on coal for their electricity supply. tax revenue. Loss of income from mines, factories and workers can reduce funding for schools, roads and police.a recent papers A study by the Aspen Institute found that between 1980 and 2019, areas exposed to coal decline saw long-term declines in income and employment rates, increased access to Medicare and Medicaid benefits, and a decline in young workers in particular. There was a significant decrease in the population among The result, according to the newspaper, “is a disproportionately aged, sick and poor population.”

The Biden administration has promised to help these communities weather the impact, both for economic and political reasons. Failure to adequately help displaced persons in a globalized world where companies are moving factories to China could lead to the kind of populist backlash that hits the Democratic Party.Promises to restore coal jobs also helped Donald J. Trump win the 2016 electionsecured significant votes in states such as Pennsylvania.

Federal officials pledged: create jobs By offering billions of dollars in bonus tax credits to developers to advance renewable energy projects in fossil-fuel-dependent regions, displaced workers will “benefit from the new clean energy economy.” be able to

When new investments such as photovoltaic power generation facilities and storage battery facilities are built in these areas,energy community, the developer could potentially cover up to 40 percent of the cost of the project. Companies receiving credits for producing electricity from renewable sources could get a 10% increase.

Inflation control law enacted at least $4 billion creating tax credits that can be used for the construction of clean energy production facilities and other projects in coal mines and closed mine areas; program The deal could guarantee financing of up to $250 billion to repurpose retired power plants and other facilities for clean energy use.

Biden administration executive director Brian Anderson said: Interagency Working Group With regard to the energy community, he points to other federal initiatives, among them: reclaim what was abandoned Mining land and relief funds to revitalize coal communities.

Still, he said the effort was not enough, saying the agency had limited funding to directly help more communities.

“We are on the brink of leaving them behind again,” said Anderson.

A tax credit for manufacturers could help create more jobs, but $4 billion won’t be enough to attract facilities to every region, said Phil Smith, chief of staff for the Union of American Miners. said it was likely sufficient. He also said he wanted more direct support for furloughed workers, but Congress didn’t fund those efforts.

“We still think it’s something to do,” Smith said.

Gordon Hanson, author of the Aspen Institute paper and professor of urban policy at the Harvard Kennedy School, said the federal government might rely too much on tax credits, partly because businesses are more likely to invest in growth. He said he was worried that region. He called on federal officials to increase funding for unemployment benefits and workforce development programs in hard-hit areas.

Even with bonus credits, investments in clean energy may not reach the hardest-hit areas. wide area satisfy Commonwealth definition Daniel Raimi, Fellow of Resource for the Future, a member of the energy community, said:

“If the intent of the provision was to specifically favor the hardest-hit fossil fuel regions, I don’t think it would have done that,” Raimi said.

Local authorities have had mixed reactions to the federal government’s efforts. Webster County, Kentucky Judge and Enforcer Steve Henry said he believes it can help attract investment in renewable energy and attract other industries to the area. The county has experienced a significant drop in tax revenue since the last mine closed in 2019, and since workers can’t offer more competitive wages, 911 dispatchers and sheriff’s deputies are now employment is declining.

“I think I can recover,” he said. “But the recovery will take a long time.”

Judge and Enforcer Adam Onan of Union County, Kentucky, where one coal mine remains, believes renewable energy will bring few jobs to the area, and the county’s energy problems are the reason manufacturing plants are built. He said he doubted whether it would. Inadequate infrastructure.

“It’s kind of hard to see how it’s getting to Union County at this point,” Onan said. “Coal is the best at the moment.”

federal and Efforts of the country So far, little has been done to help workers like James Ort, 42. Worked at a refinery in Contra Costa County, California., worked for 14 years before being laid off in 2020. To support his family, he used up his pension and withdrew most of the money from his 401(k) early.

In early 2022, he moved to Roseville, Calif., to work at a power plant, but was fired again four months later. After briefly working as a meal delivery driver, he got a job at a nearby chemical manufacturer in February.

Today, he earns $17 less an hour than he did at the refinery, barely enough to cover his mortgage. Still, he said he would not return to the oil industry.

“I feel that as we move away from gasoline, I am entering a dying industry,” Ort said.

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