Despite Virginia’s reputation as a bedrock for coal mining, the solar power industry has been making significant inroads into the state over the past few years. For the first time in history, Virginia now has more jobs within the solar industry than in the coal industry.
Statistics released by the Virginia Department of Mines, Minerals, and Energy reflect a 40% drop in the number of workers in the coal industry, over the last five years.
Those with a stake in the Virginia coal industry think the industry will rebound. Henry Childress of the Virginia Coal and Energy Alliance explains that the coal industry produces more energy with fewer employees.
“Coal will produce more jobs I think in the long term. But we’ve had to cut back because everyone feels like it’s not worth it to use coal anymore. And I feel that there will be a time when we will have to turn back to coal to meet the demand,” says Childress.
However, the solar industry has more employees in Virginia than the coal industry. This represents a rather dramatic shift for a state which has a long history supporting the coal industry. Alexander Winn of the Solar Foundation explains that he’s hopeful some of the jobs will move from coal to solar.
“There are efforts to retrain some coal workers, and hopefully those will continue to grow as solar becomes an increasingly large employment sector in the Virginia energy industry,” says Winn.
Most of the jobs in the solar industry are in the installation, manufacturing and construction areas. The statistics released by the Solar Foundation show that the industry grew around 65% over the last year alone.