More Solar Workers in US than Coal Miners, and Solar doesn’t Poison Drinking Water

(By Juan Cole)

By the end of 2013, the number of workers in the solar energy industry in the US had grown to 143,000. About a third of them are in California, followed by Arizona, New Jersey, and Massachusetts.

the wind power industry employed another 80,000 or so workers directly, and many more in transportation of components, etc.

Together, wind and solar energy workers far outnumber all the estimated workers in coal mining, coal transportation, and coal plant operation. Solar installation jobs alone outnumber seasonally adjusted full-time jobs in coal mining by a substantial margin.

In contrast to the rapidly growing solar and wind sectors, 151 coal mines were idled in the second half of 2013, with a loss of 2600 mining jobs. Coal is very dirty and cannot compete with wind and natural gas if the industry is made to conform to the Clean Air Act.

There are about 83,000 coal miners in the US, and their numbers are declining. Another 40,000 or so workers toil at coal-fired power plants, but other kinds of power plants also employ workers, so the latter can’t be considered as essentially in the coal industry. Likewise, workers who transport coal would also be needed to transport solar panels and other energy-generating components, and so can’t be considered “coal” workers per se.

Solar jobs are concentrated in panel installation and average $38,000 a year. Obviously, state governments in places like Kentucky and West Virginia should be funding retraining programs for coal workers as solar panel installers and wind turbine installers and operators.

Coal byproducts and chemicals used in coal purification have spilled into rivers in West Virginia and North Carolina in recent weeks, depriving hundreds of thousands of people of potable water. The full impact of the chemical spill in West Virginia is still unclear, but 300,000 residents were endangered for many days and may still not be entirely safe. (Although officials maintain that enhanced levels of arsenic from coal ash in the Dan River don’t make the water unsafe to drink, many observers fear otherwise).

Wind turbines and PV panels don’t endanger our access to drinking water!


Related video:

CBS reports, “Huge solar power plant opens in California ”

15 Responses

  1. Beauregard

    but solar panels and wind turbines are so unsightly! coal ash flowing in rivers is prettier! clean coal, amirite

    • USA-Japan manufactured SHARP panels here! That’s a conscious choice to go cheap with Chinese panels or support union labor and fairer work conditions in the US and Japan by purchasing non-Chinese slave-condition, enviro-polluting panels made in the first world for a few more bucks and decades of payback. Enjoying my panels immensely!

      • Sorry, ran out of time on my edit:

        There are plenty of first world choices:


        For a few bucks more we can support fairer work conditions and a cleaner environment.

  2. I love it. I had not see a labor report highlighting the growing worker trends in green industries. We definitely have them in Colorado with large numbers of solar panels being installed. Infant industry here we come.

  3. Arizona? I’m surprised.

    Arizona stands out for being particularly slow in developing commercial solar installations, compared to neighbors like Texas and California. Apparently, though, they are going great guns on rooftop solar.

    I wonder how this situation came about.

  4. I live in Gillette, Wyoming where there are over a dozen coal mines operating. What’s missing in this story are the jobs that will be lost in the contract industries that support mining like equipment repair and maintenance, welding, testing labs, reclamation, tool suppliers, retail/service and healthcare, etc., not to mention the loss of mineral severance taxes which have literally transformed this once dusty little cow town into the modern small city that we inhabit today. There are far more of these jobs than just the 2,000 or so miners and transportation workers working here. There is a trickle-down effect when jobs are lost. I know this from personal experience. I used to live in two other mining areas: White Pine, Michigan and Butte, Montana. They were once thriving communities too. When the bottom dropped out of the copper market in the 1970’s both of these places practically disappeared overnight. Now, they are removing the street lights in White Pine because they can’t afford the electric bill and a drive through the streets of Butte shows row upon row of empty houses and stores where families used to live and shop. The transition to solar and wind will have real, serious consequences for a majority of the 29,000 people who live and work here in Gillette and Northeastern Wyoming, indeed, for the entire state of Wyoming whose coffers have been filled to overflowing with severance tax dollars. These people will fight tooth and nail to protect their jobs and their comfortable living. Do not expect them to go quietly into the night. They vote Republican. It will take massive amounts of education and concrete, bona fide jobs that pay as well as the jobs they have now to convince them to transition to a green economy.

    • their grandchildren won’t be able to live there anyway w/no water & 10 degrees hotter

      The UP in Michigan used to depend on copper mining, too. Things change.

      • I am not advocating for no change. I understand that the future of the planet hangs in the balance but surely you can do better than “Things change.” Especially when you are talking about the upheaval of hundreds of thousands of people’s lives. It is precisely that kind of cavalier attitude that reinforces the siege mentality so prevalent around here. You won’t win anyone over to your side with that approach.

        • The upheaval is millions of people’s lives being turned upside down in Miami and other coastal cities. A tiny town in Colorado is not equivalent. As for winning people over, sometimes you can’t. People have different interests. The Carbon interests are destroying the planet, and will have to be defeated to save it. As for workers, retrain them to install solar panels and care for wind turbines. Actually if energy costs go near zero (as they will since fuel is free and infrastructure will be a sunk cost), there is no reason for everyone not to be rich.

    • So the majority of the people in northeastern Wyoming will vote against climate change?! That’s what fighting tooth and nail means? They already vote Republican so it means nothing.

      And when the jobs go they will still leave, right? Just as happened in White Pine and Calumet and Butte. So much for “tooth and nail”. ..

      You should be giving your neighbors better advice. Another industry is expanding while yours is contracting. They will just need to move to where economic opportunity exists. In the meantime you are shooting yourselves in the feet by voting Republican. You fail to consult your own interests. When the lights go out in White Pine they are turning on somewhere else.

Comments are closed.