Sorry, Coal. Solar Is Where the Jobs Are
On the campaign trail, Donald Trump donned a miner’s hat and promised to bring coal jobs back. “Get ready,” he told the embattled industry, “you’re going to work your asses off!” Those pledges helped win over voters in the nation’s Rustbelt, but they ignore America’s new energy reality: The jobs aren’t in coal.
According to a recent report from the Energy Department, the coal electric generation sector employed just 86,035 people—57,325 of them miners—in 2016. That’s far fewer than the number who now work in solar: 370,000, up 25% from 2015. The wind-energy workforce, meanwhile, ballooned 32%, to 101,738, and the Bureau of Labor Statistics pronounced “wind turbine service technician” the nation’s fastest-growing occupation, projecting 108% growth between 2014 and 2024.
Compare that with the fate of coal miners, whose number dwindled by 24% last year. There are lots of reasons for that—the shale gas boom, declining demand, Obama-era regulations, and automation. Even for those in the industry, it’s hard to imagine all those coal jobs coming back. Luke Popovich of the National Mining Association has upgraded the industry outlook from “not great” to “improving,” in light of Trump’s early days in the White House.
Bringing back coal jobs, though, may prove a Pyrrhic victory. Loosening regulations and ending solar subsidies are unlikely to stop its slow decline.
A version of this article appears in the March 1, 2017 issue of Fortune with the headline “Sorry, Coal. Solar Is Where the Jobs Are.”