Chinese Wind Company to Provide Free Job Training to Wyoming Coal Miners
(3BL Media/Justmeans) — There’s an old saying that goes, “if you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em.” That‘s what Goldwind Americas, a division of a major Chinese manufacturer of wind turbines is hoping that coal miners, particularly in Wyoming, will soon be saying about wind power. The company is making a special effort to hire American workers to maintain the equipment for the wind farms that are now popping up around the state. They just announced a new free training program called Goldwind Works for wind turbine technicians, one of the fastest growing jobs in the country. Employment for wind power technicians is expected to grow by 104% between 2014-2024. While coal miners work well beneath the ground and wind technicians work well above it, both need to be able to work in difficult conditions and both need electrical and mechanical skills. It’s a good long-term strategy for the Chinese, who know how to think long term, leading to a broader acceptance of wind power in a region that has long opposed it.
The technicians will be needed at a new wind farm in Carbon County (Pop. 15,885), where, ironically, the first coal mine in the state opened just after the Civil War. The new Chokecherry and Sierra Madre wind farm, will be operated by the Power Company of Wyoming, which just received a permit to build the $5 billion project last month. It will be the largest onshore wind farm in the US. Once the nearly 1,000 turbines have been installed, some 200 workers will remain to maintain them.
Just a year ago, the NY Times reported on a generation of coal miners that were leaving Wyoming after being laid off from mines that had been operating there for decades. Robert W. Godby, a Professor of Economics at the University of Wyoming, told the Times that the state could lose up to 10,000 coal industry jobs over the next few years. According to this Sierra Club report, Wyoming is one of only six states with more jobs in fossil fuels than renewables. (Overall, clean energy jobs outnumber fossil fuel jobs by a factor of 2.5 to 1.) But not all those jobs are mining jobs. That’s because there’s another big difference between wind and coal beside the fact that wind power is cleaner; wind is also far more productive and less expensive to operate. Once a wind turbine is installed, no trainloads of fuel are required to keep it going. A number of those fossil fuel jobs will remain however, since natural gas is the county’s primary export today.
Godby told the Times that wind power “doesn’t create nearly the economic impact of the fossil fuel industry.” That’s true, but you could say the same thing about the textile industry, right after the sewing machine was invented. That’s the problem with using jobs as a primary benchmark. If all we wanted was more jobs, we could simply go back to less productive ways of doing things. There might be reasons for doing that, but job creation isn’t one of them. Just look at the blossoming artisan industries for everything from furniture to toys to beer. There are times when we’re willing to sacrifice productivity, and pay a little more for those products that add uniqueness and quality compared to their mass-produced equivalents.
But the electrons that come from a wind turbine are exactly the same as those that came from a coal plant except that there is a lot less pollution and less people required to make it happen, at least on the operational side. There are far more manufacturing jobs in wind power than in coal, but at present, while there are a number of wind turbine components manufactured in the US, most of the utility-scale wind turbine manufacturers are located overseas. If President Trump wants to create more American jobs, perhaps that would be a good place to put his energy.