Home Energy and Environment While U.S. Leaders Were Worrying About Coal Jobs, Clean Energy Snatched the...

While U.S. Leaders Were Worrying About Coal Jobs, Clean Energy Snatched the Lead: Even Virginia Now Has More People Working In Solar Than Coal.


by Ivy Main, cross posted from Power for the People VA


Jobs in electric generation do not include fuel jobs, so for example, the coal jobs in the two charts have to be added together to get total employment. Wind and solar, of course, have no fuel costs. Charts come from DOE.

Jobs in electric generation do not include fuel jobs, so for example, the coal jobs in the two charts have to be added together to get total employment. Wind and solar, of course, don’t need employees to produce their “fuel.” Charts come from DOE.

A new report from the U.S. Department of Energy takes stock of energy employment in the U.S. and comes up with fresh evidence of the rapid transformation of our nation’s electricity supply: more people today work in the solar and wind industries than in natural gas extraction and coal mining.

According to the January 2017 U.S. Energy and Employment Report, 373,807 Americans now work in solar electric power generation, while 101,738 people work in wind. By comparison, a total of 362,118 people work in the natural gas sector, including both fuel supply and generating plants.

Total coal employment stands at 160,119. And while renewable power employment grew by double digits last year—25% for solar, 32% for wind—total job numbers actually declined across the fossil fuel sectors, where machines now do most of the work.

If generating electricity employs a lot of people, not generating it employs even more. The number of Americans working in energy efficiency rose to almost 2.2 million, an increase of 133,000 jobs over the year before.

Those are nationwide figures, but the report helpfully breaks down the numbers by state. For Virginia, 2016 was a watershed year. In spite of the fact that our solar industry is still in its infancy and we have no operating wind farms yet, more Virginians now work in renewable energy than in the state’s storied coal industry. A mere 2,647 Virginians continue to work in coal mining, compared to 4,338 in solar energy and 1,260 in wind.

Dwarfing all of these numbers is the statistic for employment in energy efficiency in Virginia: 75,552.

  • Quizzical
  • Mark Potochnik

    So many of them had VERY HIGH pay. And they didn’t save anything. They worked for double what I earned in my lifetime. They have some blame themselves… Yes your industry shut down, you move on…

  • A_Siegel

    Quibble about title: “While U.S. leaders …”? Which leaders? Do you mean Trump? He might be President, but he certainly isn’t a “leader” by (m)any definition(s) of the word.

    Also, I think reasonable to have concerns about employment/economy in coal country — even though that should not be about ‘how do we boost coal production’ because that, we know, is done via automation and not through employment. As well, really should be boosting employment there while accelerating move off coal as key to the local economies.

  • Carbonicus

    What you “Blue VA” Leftists – EcoLeftists in this case – don’t get or are happy to intentionally miss altogether is the amount of ACTUAL POWER GENERATED, not “rated capacity”.

    If you use actual power generated divided by #employees by sector, you’d find the real metric that matters: the amount of power generated per employee in each sector. And on this basis, your Nonreliables (you call them “alternatives”) look like about the saddest joke imaginable from an engineering and economic perspective.

    What you have going on here is the equivalent of employing millions of people to dig the Panama Canal with spoons when a few thousand with gigantic modern construction equipment could do the job faster and cheaper. And you’re crowing about that! Imagine!

    • Actually, clean energy is both essential to stave off disastrous climate disruption – that’s a scientific fact, by the way, neither “right” nor “left” – and also increasingly the cheapest option for new power sources. It’s also been far less subsidized, both explicitly and implicitly, than suck-at-the-government-teat fossil fuels over the past century. In short, it’s game/set/match for clean energy, as fossil fuels head (mercifully) towards the dustbin of history.

      • Carbonicus

        Actually, Mr. Mod, lets take your claims at face value

        1) the idea that “clean energy is both essential to stave off ‘disastrous climate disruption’ – is not a “scientific fact”‘ it is your opinion and one shared by some climate scientists but it is not a “fact”.

        2) the idea that “clean energy” ” is also increasingly the ‘cheapest option for new power sources” – is not a fact, either. That idea is a result of twisting made-up terms like “levelized cost of energy” to intentionally avoid counting taxpayer subsidies, or “social cost of carbon” for whch you people pull the cost of “CO2 externalities” out of thin air at a “cost” which can’t possibly pass any red face test.

        3) the idea that “it’s (nonreliables, aka “alternatives”) have been ‘far less subsidized’, both explicitly and implicitly than such-at-the-government-teat fossil fuels”, not “over the last century” but in particular over the last decade or so is a fiction. As you can see from the U.S. Energy Information Association’s data in this report (2013 latest data) in 2013 fossil fuels + nuclear got about $5 billion in subsidies while “nonreliables” (aka “alternatives”) got about $15 billion in subsidies. That gets even worse when we look at “Direct Expenditures” (direct cash outlays), where fossil fuels + nuclear got $173 million and nonreliables got a whopping $8,291 BILLION. All while fossil fuels + nuclear produced around 86% of total electricity generation, hydropower about 6%, and all nonreliables combined a pathetic around 7%, (wind 4.7%, wind 0.6%), and EcoLeftists fight against at every turn and don’t consider hydropower “green” or “sustainable”. So, in 2013, taxpayers subsidized nonreliables you call alternatives to the tune of 3X as $ much as fossil fuels/nuclear power subsidies and got less than 10% of the electricity generated from fossil fuels + nuclear from those subsidies.

        I think your problem here, Mod Lowkell, is that you finally ran into an environmental/energy industry professional who knows the actual facts instead of what he read on Huff Po or Mother Jones (or Blue Virginia.com).

        • Dude, I worked for the US Energy Information Administration as an energy economist for 17 years, have consulted to the country’s leading cleantech PR firm since 2010. So yeah, I know what I’m talking about.

          • Carbonicus

            If that’s the case, why did you write what you wrote? Do you deny any of the figures I’ve used above, which clearly refute your broad generalizations? What gives?

          • 1) Yes, that’s a fact.
            2) Also a fact.
            3) Nope, what I said is factual. See http://grist.org/energy-policy/2011-10-26-direct-subsidies-to-fossil-fuels-are-tip-of-melting-iceburg/ for instance.

          • Carbonicus

            1) No, that’s your opinion and a hypothesis. Your opinion and that hypothesis happens to be shared by a large majority of scientists, but not all of them. For reference, the “fact” that the earth is the center of our universe was the large majority opinion of the Catholic church and its scientists circa 1630. Of course, the FACT is that they were wrong and “denier”/contrarian scientists like Copernicus and Galileo were correct. So spare me your “consensus” argument. Politics does “consensus”, not science.

            2) No, not a fact. A twisted attempt to make it so by “levelized cost of energy” or “social cost of carbon” B.S., but alternative energy is not cheaper than fossil fuel energy.

            3) OK, I’ll grant you that what you said is factual, noting that it is only so b/c you chose “over the past century”. Just like the EcoLeftist article from Grist you linked, you both choose time periods prior to 2000 because the current subsidy information I noted above makes it obvious nonreliables are an economic loser (subsidies/unit of energy DELIVERED, not capacity) and we all know there were no real wind/solar or other “alternatives” to bother subsidizing to any extent 100 years ago or 50 years ago (or even 25 years ago).

          • Nope, they’re facts, and there are hundreds of articles, studies, etc. out there to back this up.

          • Carbonicus

            Nope. Articles on Grist, MotherJones, HuffPo, EcoWatch and Desmogblog do not make them facts, Mr. Mod. “Studies” like MBH ’99 (hockey stick) and Karl’s NOAA attempt to deny “the pause” don’t make these things “facts”.

            Dangerous warming from human emissions of CO2 from burning fossil fuels is a hypothesis, not a fact. Sorry.

            And the moment you link to a Grist article, you are outing yourself as an EcoLeftist propaganda machine (in case “Blue Virginia” wasn’t enough of a clue….).