Saturday, December 7, 2013

Interstate Cooperation for Clean Energy

I wrote up a policy  memo for a class last week.  It made me realize how much of a problem coal still is, largely because it is not easy for coal-miners to transition to other jobs.  

California, Arizona, New Jersey are leading the nation in manufacturing and installing solar power.  Arizona alone has over 316 solar companies, supplying a variety of parts for solar installations[i]
The number of solar installations has been growing across the nation, increasing 15% in Q2 of 2013[ii].  States with solar manufacturing are well-positioned to benefit as more states install more solar power.  Those states will have more well-paying jobs and tax revenues as the solar industry grows. 
On the other hand, there are many opponents of solar power.  About 40% of the electricity generated in the United States is from coal.  Coal mining in the US is concentrated in some states, particularly Kentucky, West Virginia, Pennsylvania, and Wyoming.  These and other states such as Ohio, Virginia, Indiana, and Illinois have strong pro-coal lobbies and constituents[iii].
Coal miners and their communities are justifiably concerned about losing their jobs and economic security.  Right now, they support ways to keep coal cheap, which works directly against the interests of the solar industry and Arizona generally.
In order to undercut the support for cheap coal, I recommend that states without coal industries share some of the benefits of their growing solar industries with coal miners.  Continued access to healthcare and education are particularly valuable.  Solar producing states should offer scholarships to family members of coal miners to their state universities.  They could also contribute to a fund to pay for healthcare for families of coal-miners.
Those directly affected by the decline of the coal-producing industry are relatively few, about 20,000 coal-miners in Kentucky, for example[iv].  Providing a safety net for those people would go a long way towards reducing the urgency of keeping coal production going.  This would give coal producing states less opposed to clean tech.  They would also have more resources to develop jobs in other industries rather than coal mining.
Solar producing states should partner with coal producing states to find mutually beneficial solutions to their economic, environmental, and health problems.        

[i] ‘Arizona Solar’, Solar Energy Industries Association [accessed 5 December 2013].
[ii] ‘Solar Industry Data’ [accessed 5 December 2013].
[iii] Kris Maher and Tom McGinty, ‘Coal’s Decline Hits Hardest in the Mines of Kentucky’ [accessed 5 December 2013].
[iv] ‘Mining Employment and Production Trends’, The Impact of Coal on the Kentucky State Budget .

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