A U.S. coal CEO’s salary would be enough money to retrain his company’s entire work force for jobs in solar energy, according to a study published earlier this month in the journal Energy Economics.
“In states with the most coal jobs, many workers could be retrained for the growing solar PV industry—some at a cost of just a few thousand dollars,” Greentech Media reports. “For many coal companies, even those filing for bankruptcy, the cost of retraining all employees would be less than a year’s pay for the CEO.”
The study gave the example of Consol Energy, a firm whose CEO received more than $15.5 million, according to 2012 regulatory filings—more than enough to prepare workers for jobs in photovoltaics. “To improve public support, a coal company could voluntarily slightly decrease CEO salaries to ensure their entire work force had a socio-economically stable future,” the paper stated. “This would work best if the CEO himself made the gesture.”
Overall, the country’s entire coal work force of about 90,000 could be retrained for as little as US$180 million—or as much as $1.8 billion if funding extended to less specialized employees, from office staff to electricians, trying to transfer their skills to other industries.
“The highest cost would be in West Virginia, which has the largest number of coal workers,” Greentech reports, but retraining costs would only add up to about 5% of coal companies’ revenue. The study also found that the “externalities of the coal industry, such as public health costs, are far higher than any cost incurred to move people to cleaner energy jobs,” notes senior writer Katherine Tweed.
“The writing on the wall for the coal industry is clear,” wrote co-author Joshua Pearce, associate professor of materials science and engineering at Michigan Technological University. “Young coal workers, in particular, should consider retraining for a job in solar now.”
With Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump vowing to bring the coal industry back to life (even though the factors behind its decline are far beyond a U.S. president’s control), and Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton promising clean energy jobs for coal miners, some of the workers themselves are ready for change.
“If they’re going to use energy alternatives, why can’t they bring a solar panel plant here, or train us…to install them in the field?” asked former miner Bob Wilson in an article last June.
“Coal miners are some of the most versatile people here on the planet,” he added. “We’ve all run equipment, done welding, fabricating. We’ve built million-dollar belt drives from the ground up. We can do this stuff with a little bit of help.”