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The U.S. coal industry has endured a precipitous decline in recent years. A Duke University study indicated that the industry shed 49,530 jobs between 2008 and 2012.
U.S. renewable energy, meanwhile, has surged. The Duke study found that wind and solar energy generation provided more than 79,000 direct and spinoff jobs over that same period.
“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 University’s Nicholas School of the Environment.
Texas and California have been among the biggest beneficiaries of that growth. According to the American Wind Energy Association, wind power generated 9,000 jobs in Texas in 2014 alone, and more new wind projects are currently under construction there than in all other states combined. California, likewise, is expected to account for over half the solar construction nationwide this year.
The Appalachian states hardest hit by the collapse of coal, however, have benefited little from green energy.
“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,” said Duke’s Pratson.
Another reason for the lagging renewable energy industry in Appalachia is that states in that region haven’t mandated a percentage of renewable energy that utilities have to meet as 29 other states have done, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.
“States with incentives have more growth,” said Drew Hearer, who coauthored the Duke study. “The Southeast is incentive-free, and there is almost no development of green energy there compared to other regions.”
But those incentives have come under fire recently. The Texas Senate passed a bill last month (SB 931) that will end that state’s wind power incentives if the House also approves the measure. Federal tax breaks for wind and solar power are also scheduled to expire or diminish, respectively, in 2017 unless Congress extends them. And that might not happen, according to William Nelson, head of North American analysis for Bloomberg New Energy Finance.
“I hear from our wind analysts that they truly believe this could potentially be the end,” he said. (BELLINGHAM HERALD, LEXISNEXIS STATE NET)
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