Energy generation shifts in the USA have spurred healthy job growth in the sector, but few are in the areas hit hardest by coal's decline, a new study has found.
While jobs in the coal industry fell by more than 49,000 in the four years following the 2008 recession, the natural gas, solar and wind industries together created nearly 200,000 new ones, according to research by Duke University.
But the county-by-county geographical analysis shows that few of those new jobs were added in the regions hardest hit by coal's decline, particularly counties in southern West Virginia and eastern Kentucky.
Regions that experienced the greatest job losses overall were Appalachia, the Uinta Basin of Utah and Colorado, and parts of the Powder River Basin in Montana and Wyoming, while the Northeast, Southwest, Midwest and West had the largest energy job increases.
“Our study shows it has not been a one-for-one replacement,” said senior author Lincoln Pratson, professor of Earth and Ocean Sciences at Duke. “The counties that were very reliant on the coal industry are now in the most difficult position.”
The study, published in journal Energy Policy, included data on both direct and indirect employment in each industry, including operations and maintenance jobs in generation, resource extraction and fuel transportation.
The lack of geographic overlap of job loss and job creation is the result of many factors, according to the authors, but each area's terrain and the corresponding state’s support for renewable energy had a significant impact.
"The areas where a lot of coal is mined in Appalachia, for example, are very rugged and heavily forested – not easy places to set up solar panels or wind farms," said Praston.
Research analyst Drew Haerer added: "States with incentives have more growth. The Southeast is incentive-free, and there is almost no development of green energy there compared to other regions."
Haerer added that transitioning to clean coal technology, designed to reduce coal plants' negative environmental impacts, could be one way for States that depend heavily on the industry to cope with changing energy trends.
Data for solar and wind generator operations and maintenance jobs used by the study were provided by the industries themselves, while changes in the coal and natural gas industries were derived using a model that analysed year-to-year economic activity and energy production occurring within each sector to estimate gains or losses in employment.