Solar Training To Cost $1.8B

Study: Retraining miners not cheap

Photo by Casey Junkins / A solar industry worker installs panels. A new study shows it would cost as much as $1.8 billion to retrain the “vast majority” of U.S. coal miners to work in the solar power industry.

WHEELING — A new study featured in the Harvard Business Review finds it would cost as much as $1.8 billion to retrain the “vast majority” of U.S. coal miners to work in the solar power industry, with $475 million of this required in West Virginia.

West Virginia Coal Association President Bill Raney said about 8,000 miners have lost their jobs in the Mountain State during the last six years. He said instead of trying to retrain miners to install solar panels, the federal government should allow the coal industry to reach its full potential by relaxing environmental regulations.

“Has anyone asked the coal miners and their families if they want to be retrained?” Raney said. “Our coal miners want to stay here and do what their families have been doing for generations. Government needs to get out of the way.”

Joshua M. Pearce is an associate professor in the Department of Materials Science & Engineering and in the Department of Electrical & Computer Engineering at the Michigan Technological University. He and Oregon State University public policy professor Edward Louie completed the coal miner-to-solar worker study.

“It is clear that coal is no longer a competitive form of electrical generation,” Pearce told the Harvard Business Review in discussing his study. “And as coal investors have fled in droves to invest in more profitable companies and industries, coal workers have been left with pink slips and mortgages on houses with few buyers in blighted coal country.”

“Young coal workers, in particular, should consider retraining for a job in solar now,” Pearce said.

However, Pearce admits many solar-related engineering positions call for up to a four-year university degree, which has a large range in costs from $18,000 to over $136,000 depending on the school.

Raney believes this is all a waste of money and time, as he said there are at least 200 years of coal left in the earth for mining and burning. He also said people need to recognize how well coal mining jobs pay.

“When a guy goes from making $35-$40 an hour to making $15 an hour, it is not a sustainable situation,” he said. “These are far and away the best jobs available in much of West Virginia.”

However, Pearce said a typical coal miner trained to work in the solar industry would actually see about a 10 percent salary increase.

“Our results show that there is a wide variety of employment opportunities in the solar industry, and that the annual pay is attractive at all levels of education, with even the lowest skilled jobs paying a living wage,” he said.

Raney also said promoting the solar industry could encourage people to leave West Virginia, which he said would create even more problems. He also questioned the reliability of solar energy.

“When you look at solar panels around West Virginia, if that is your sole source of supply, you could run out of power. I think it is very undependable,” he said. “We are much better of with a reliable, cost-effective fuel in coal.”

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