Energy transformation is underway. Fossil fuel workers may be left behind.

Energy transformation is underway.  Fossil fuel workers may be left behind.

Tiffany Berger spent more than a decade working at a coal-fired power plant in Coshocton County, Ohio, eventually becoming a unit operator and earning about $100,000 a year.

But in 2020, American Electric Power closed the plant, and Ms. Berger struggled to find a job nearby that offered comparable pay. She sold her house, moved in with her parents, and decided to help run their farm in Newcomerstown, Ohio, about 30 minutes away.

They sell some of their harvest for corn, beans and beef, but it is only enough to keep the farm running. Ms. Berger, 39, started working part-time last year at a local fertilizer and seed company, earning only a third of what she earns. He said that he had never thought in his wildest dreams that the plant would be shut down.

“I thought I was ready to retire out there,” Ms. Berger said. “It is a power plant. I mean, everybody needs power.

The United States is undergoing a rapid transition away from fossil fuels in the form of new battery factories, wind and solar projects, and other clean energy investment crops across the country. The sweeping climate legislation that Democrats passed last year may be even more effective than Biden administration officials estimate at reducing fossil fuel emissions.

While the infection is estimated to cause hundreds of thousands clean energy jobsThis could be devastating for the many workers and counties that depend on coal, oil and gas for their economic stability.

Estimate of potential job loss Coming years will vary, but about 900,000 workers were projected to be directly employed by fossil fuel industries in 2022, according to data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

The Biden administration is trying to mitigate the impact, mostly by providing additional tax benefits for renewable energy projects that are built in areas sensitive to the energy transition.

But some economists, climate researchers and union leaders said they doubt the initiative will be enough. Beyond construction, wind and solar farms typically require few workers to operate, and new clean energy jobs may not necessarily be provided. comparable wages or align with skill of laid off workers.

Coal plants have already been shutting down for years, and the country’s coal production has fallen from its peak in the late 2000s. US coal-fired generation capacity projected to drop sharply about 50 percent current levels by 2030, according to the Energy Information Administration. about 41,000 workers left in the coal mining industry, down from about 177,000 in the mid-1980s.

The demise of the industry is a problem not only for its workers but also for communities that have long depended on coal for electricity. tax revenue, Loss of revenue from mines, plants and workers could mean less money for schools, roads and law enforcement. A recent paper The Aspen Institute found that from 1980 to 2019, areas most exposed to coal declines saw longer-term decreases in earnings and employment rates, greater increases in Medicare and Medicaid benefits, and significantly smaller populations, especially younger workers. In. According to the newspaper, “It leaves behind a population that is disproportionately old, sick and poor.”

The Biden administration has promised to help those communities deal with the impact, for both economic and political reasons. Failure to adequately help displaced workers could turn into the kind of populist response that could hurt Democrats in the wake of globalization as companies move factories to China. Donald J. trump got help win the 2016 electionDue to which he got important votes in states like Pennsylvania.

federal officials have pledged create jobs Ensuring displaced workers “benefit from the new clean energy economy” by offering developers billions in bonus tax credits to install renewable energy projects in hard-hit communities and in areas dependent on fossil fuels.

If new investments such as solar farms or battery storage facilities are made in those areas, it is said to be “energy community, “Developers can get cover up to 40 per cent of the cost of a project. Businesses that receive credits for producing electricity from renewable sources can earn a 10 percent increase.

The Inflation Reduction Act was also set aside at least $4 billion in tax credits that can be used to build clean energy manufacturing facilities, among other projects, in areas with closed coal mines or plants, and it created Program It could guarantee up to $250 billion in loans to refurbish facilities such as decommissioned power plants for clean energy use.

Brian Anderson, executive director of the Biden administration interagency working group On energy communities, other federal initiatives pointed to including increased funding for projects pick up the drop Mining Land and Relief Fund to Revitalize Coal Communities.

Still, he said the efforts won’t be enough, and officials have limited funds to deliver direct aid to more communities.

“We are on the verge of potentially leaving them behind again,” Mr Anderson said.

Phil Smith, chief of staff for the United Mine Workers of America, said the tax credit for manufacturers could help create more jobs but the $4 billion likely won’t be enough to attract facilities in every region. He said he also hoped for more direct assistance for laid-off workers, but Congress did not fund those initiatives.

“We think it’s still something that needs to be done,” Mr Smith said.

Gordon Hanson, author of the Aspen Institute paper and professor of urban policy at the Harvard Kennedy School, said he worries the federal government is relying too heavily on tax credits, as companies will be more willing to invest in development. Area. He urged federal officials to increase unemployment benefits in distressed areas and increase funding for workforce development programs.

Even with bonus credits, clean energy investment will not reach the most affected areas because a wide range of areas Get federal definition said Daniel Raimi, a Resources for the Future fellow, of the energy community.

“If the intent of that provision was to provide benefits specifically to the most affected fossil fuel communities, I do not think it would have done so,” Mr. Raimi said.

There have been mixed reactions from local officials to the federal effort. Judge-Executive Steve Henry of Webster County, Ky., said he believes they can bring renewable energy investment and help attract other industries to the area. The county experienced a significant drop in tax revenue after the last mine closed in 2019, and it now employs fewer 911 dispatchers and deputy sheriffs because the officers cannot offer more competitive salaries.

“I think we can recover,” he said. “But it’s going to be a long recovery.”

Union County, Ky. Judge-Executive Adam O’Nan of the U.S., which has a coal mine left, said he thought renewable energy would bring some jobs to the area, and he suspected the county would build a manufacturing plant because of it. Inadequate infrastructure.

Mr. O’Nan said, “It’s hard to see how it reaches Union County at this point.” “We’re best suited for coal at the moment.”

federal and state efforts So far little has been done to help workers like 42-year-old James Alt Employed at an oil refinery in Contra Costa County, California.for 14 years before being laid off in 2020. To support his family, he ended his pension and took 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 four months later. He briefly worked as a food delivery driver before getting a job at a nearby chemical manufacturer in February.

Now he makes $17 less an hour than at the refinery and is barely able to cover his mortgage. Nevertheless, he stated that he would not return to the oil industry.

Mr. Alt said, “With the move away from gasoline, I feel like I’m moving into an industry that’s kind of dying.”

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