Tiffany Berger spent more than a decade working at a coal-fired power plant in Coshocton County, Ohio eventually becoming a unit operator earning approximately $100,000 a year.
But in 2020, American Electric Power closed the plant and Ms. Berger struggled to find a job nearby that offered a comparable salary. She sold her home, moved in with her parents and decided to help run their farm in Newcomerstown, Ohio, about 30 minutes away.
They sell some of the corn, beans and beef they harvest, but it’s barely enough to keep the farm going. Ms. Berger, 39, started working part-time at a local fertilizer and seed company last year, earning just a third of what she made. She said she « never dreamed » the plant would close.
« I thought I should retire from there, » Ms. Berger said. “It’s a powerhouse. I mean, everyone needs power.
US is undergoing rapid shift away from fossil fuels as new battery factories, wind and solar projects and more investments in clean energy popping up all over the country. An expansive climate bill passed by Democrats last year could be even more effective than Biden administration officials had estimated at reducing fossil fuel emissions.
While the transition is expected to create hundreds of thousands of clean energy workit could be devastating for many workers and counties who have relied on coal, oil and gas for their economic stability.
The estimates of potential job losses over the next few years vary, but in 2022, about 900,000 workers were employed directly by fossil fuel industries, according to data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
The Biden administration is trying to mitigate the impact, primarily by providing additional tax benefits for renewable energy projects in areas vulnerable to the energy transition.
But some economists, climate researchers and union leaders have said they are skeptical that the initiatives will be enough. Beyond construction, wind and solar farms typically require few workers to operate, and new clean energy jobs may not necessarily be offered comparable wages or true with skills of fired workers.
Coal-fired plants have already been shutting down for years, and that of the nation coal production has declined since its peak in the late 2000s. US coal-fired generation capacity is projected to decline sharply at about 50 percent of current levels by 2030, according to the Energy Information Administration. About 41,000 the workers remain in the coal mining industry, down from about 177,000 in the mid-1980s.
The disappearance of the industry is a problem not only for its workers, but also for communities that have long relied on coal to fuel their tax revenues. Loss of income from mines, plants and workers can mean less money for schools, roads and law enforcement agencies. A recent card of the Aspen Institute found that from 1980 to 2019, regions exposed to coal decline experienced long-term reductions in earnings and employment rates, increased uptake of Medicare and Medicaid benefits, and substantial population declines, particularly among younger workers. This « leaves behind a disproportionately aged, sick and poor population, » according to the paper.
The Biden administration has vowed to help those communities weather the impact, for both economic and political reasons. Failure to adequately help displaced workers could result in the kind of populist backlash that has hurt Democrats in the wake of globalization as companies moved factories to China. Promises to restore coal jobs have also helped Donald J. Trump win the 2016 electionsecuring him crucial votes in states like Pennsylvania.
Federal officials have promised to do so create jobs in hard-hit communities and ensure that displaced workers « benefit from the new clean energy economy » by offering developers billions in bonus tax credits to build renewable energy projects in fossil fuel-dependent regions.
If new investments such as solar parks or battery storage plants are built in those regions, called « energy communities”, developers could cover up to 40% of the cost of a project. Firms receiving credits for producing electricity from renewable sources could earn a 10% raise.
The Inflation Reduction Act was also rescinded at least $4 billion in tax credits that could be used to build clean energy plants, among other projects, in regions with closed mines or coal plants, and created a program which could secure up to $250 billion in loans to repurpose facilities like a closed power plant for clean energy uses.
Brian Anderson, executive director of the Biden administration interagency working group on energy communities, he pointed to other federal initiatives, including increased funding for projects a abandoned recovery mining lands and relief funds to revitalize coal communities.
However, he said the efforts would not be enough and officials had limited funding to directly assist more communities.
« We’re just about to leave them behind again, » Anderson said.
Phil Smith, the chief of staff of the United Mine Workers of America, said tax credits for producers could help create more jobs, but that $4 billion probably wouldn’t be enough to attract facilities in every region. . He said he also hoped for more direct assistance for laid-off workers, but Congress has not funded these initiatives.
« We think it’s still something that needs to be done, » Mr. Smith said.
Gordon Hanson, the author of the paper at the Aspen Institute and a professor of urban policy at the Harvard Kennedy School, said he was concerned the federal government was relying too heavily on tax credits, in part because companies would likely be more inclined to invest in growth areas. He urged federal officials to increase unemployment benefits to troubled regions and funding for workforce development programs.
Even with the bonus credit, clean energy investments may not reach the hardest-hit areas because a wide range of regions meet the federal definition of an energy community, said Daniel Raimi, a fellow at Resources for the Future.
« If the intention of that provision was to specifically provide a benefit to the hardest-hit fossil fuel communities, I don’t think it was done, » Raimi said.
Local officials have had mixed reactions to federal efforts. Steve Henry, the Webster County, Ky. executive judge, said he believes they could drive investment in renewable energy and help attract other industries to the region. The county experienced a significant drop in tax revenue after the last mine closed in 2019 and now employs fewer 911 dispatchers and deputy sheriffs because officials can’t offer more competitive wages.
« I think we can catch up, » he said. « But it’s going to be a long recovery. »
Adam O’Nan, the executive judge for Union County, Ky., which still has a coal mine, said he thought renewable energy would bring few jobs to the area, and he doubted a coal mine would be built. production plant due to the county’s infrastructure inadequate.
« It’s a little hard to see how it gets as far as Union County at this point, » said Mr. O’Nan. « We are the best suited for coal at the moment. »
federal and state efforts so far they have done little to help workers like James Ault, 42, who was employed at an oil refinery in Contra Costa County, California.for 14 years before being fired in 2020. To keep his family afloat, he used up his retirement and pulled most of the money out of his 401(k) early.
In early 2022, he moved to Roseville, California to work at a power plant, but was fired again after four months. He worked briefly as a meal delivery driver before landing a job in February at a nearby chemical manufacturer.
Now he’s making $17 an hour less than the refinery and can barely cover his mortgage. However, he said he would not be returning to the oil industry.
“With our move away from gasoline, I feel like I would be entering an industry that is dying,” Ault said.