The wind and solar industries could fully replace the number of lost jobs at U.S. coal-fired power plants that are expected to close to meet emission-reduction targets, a recent University of Michigan study has found.
Keeping those wind and solar jobs local could increase the overall cost of the energy transition in the U.S., but it could also help to protect energy workers and local economies as coal is phased out, according to the study published this month in peer-reviewed journal iScience.
The study is the first to quantify the feasibility and cost of entirely replacing coal employment with solar and wind jobs across the country.
Michael Craig, the study’s senior author and a professor at University of Michigan’s School for Environment and Sustainability, said he was surprised to find this gap in previous research, given nationwide attention to the energy transition’s effect on employment. Craig hopes the results of the study will help inform policymakers going forward.
As of 2019, coal-fired power plants directly employed nearly 80,000 people at more than 250 plants in 43 states. The study divided coal plants into eight regions, including Illinois, Indiana, Michigan and Wisconsin in the Midwest. The four-state region had the most coal plants among the other seven areas, with 46 plants and more than 6,000 job-years in coal operations and maintenance, according to the study. These 46 coal plants also generate more than 179 million tons of carbon emissions annually.