It’s the disproval of every Trump narrative around renewable energy — it will take our jobs, it’s expensive, China are the bad guys. In fact, renewable energy is so cheap and so efficient that a Chinese company will now train US coal miners in the ways of wind energy, and they’ll do it for free.
Carbon County, Wyoming, was named after its extensive coal deposits. The county opened its first coal mine in 1868, and year after year, decade after decade, the coal industry was the backbone of the community. But things started changing recently. More and more miners started losing their jobs, and for the first time in more than a century, Carbon County started losing its faith in the mines. Hundreds of jobs were lost in 2016 alone, which for a county with less than 16,000 people, is quite a lot.
Naturally, needed someone to blame, and they quickly found it: renewable energy. It’s renewable energy that’s taking our jobs and closing down the coal mines. In his campaign (and his first actions as president as well), Donald Trump has made it excessively clear that he wants to bring back coal mining to its former glory and slash down on renewables. The only problem is… you can’t do that. Coal is too dirty, and renewables are already too cheap to stop the momentum. Thankfully, a Chinese company is doing something much more productive. They’re offering free trainings to former (and current) coal miners, enabling them to shift to renewable energy.
The American arm of Goldwind, a Chinese wind-turbine manufacturer, believes that former coal workers have valuable skills which makes them perfect candidates for new employees. They’re accustomed to working in difficult conditions, which is sometimes what you need to do to maintain wind farms, and they’re used to being a part of a larger industry. They see coal mining and turbine fabrication/maintenance as different but somewhat similar things — kind of like how electrical and mechanical engineering are.
“If we can tap into that market and also help out folks that might be experiencing some challenges in the workforce today, I think that it can be a win-win situation,” David Halligan, chief executive of Goldwind Americas, told the New York Times. “If you’re a wind technician, you obviously can’t be afraid of heights. You have to be able to work at heights, and you have to be able to work at heights in a safe manner.”
While this program won’t cover all the miners who will lose their jobs, it might trigger an important change in narrative. Basically, it could help people understand that the renewable industry is not the bad guy in the room and that they actually generate more jobs than fossil fuels.
Robert Godby, director of the Center for Energy Economics and Public Policy at the University of Wyoming, said he hopes the announcement will inspire others to start similar projects.
“This is actually a realization of these benefits in a way that hasn’t been apparent before,” Mr. Godby said. “The more you hear these positive stories and you start to see more direct benefits, it changes local perspectives and kind of begins to open minds.”
Advanced economies, like the US is, depend more on services than on industry. The current administration has been talking a lot about generating industry jobs, almost at all costs, putting way less emphasis on services. What Goldwind is doing is a reminder that even in Wyoming, the US’s largest coal supplier, renewable energy is continuing its progress — and that’s a good thing.