The state of Washington has announced a plan in cooperation with the global power company TransAlta to shut down all of the coal boilers in the state – all two of them. Eliminating the use of coal power sounds easy enough for Washington, but even with only two boilers to deal with the transition out of coal will be a long and complicated one. Whether Washington serves as as a model for other states remains to be seen, but the plan does include an important feature that could be applied elsewhere to benefit local economies.
Out of Coal, into New Green Jobs
The plan calls for TransAlta to shut down the first boiler by 2020 and the second by 2025 while making interim improvements in emission control. During this time the company is required to set up a $30 million community investment fund to be used for energy efficiency projects and economic development. The company will also contribute $25 million to a tech fund that will support energy innovation and alternative energy companies in Washington state. That could all add up to hundreds of new green jobs in weatherization and other conservation fields, new jobs in manufacturing and installing renewable energy projects, and new jobs in R&D.
Green Jobs for Workers with Traditional Skills
In announcing the plan, which is mandated by state legislation, Washington Governor Chris Gregoire strongly hinted that the plan is at least partly designed to produce jobs that enable current coal plant workers to fill new positions created by the two funds. This is consistent with the findings of a new green jobs study in California, which found strong growth in traditional trades and skills due to the state’s carbon legislation.
A Green Jobs Model for Other States
The ability to transition current workers with traditional skills from their fossil fuel jobs into new green jobs should put to rest one objection that is consistently raised against alternative energy – that it will throw people out of work – and in fact that objection is already being countered. In West Virginia, for example, a new solar energy installation was built with support from an organization that finds new green jobs for electricians and other laid-off coal mine workers. Ironically, in West Virginia coal production has been increasing but coal employment has been shrinking not due to alternative energy, but due to mechanization.
Image: Coal by Joost J. Bakker IJmuiden on flickr.com.
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