One company says it has a solution for coal miners who are struggling to find jobs as the industry continues its irreversible decline. And it just so happens that this business is based in China.
Hailing from the western Chinese city of Urumqi, Goldwind is by some accounts the world’s largest wind turbine manufacturer based on total installations. And as the New York Times reported this week, the company’s U.S. division, Goldwind Americas, says it is willing to hire and train people who previously worked within the coal industry.
The company reportedly inked an agreement to supply as many as 850 turbines for a wind power installation in – ironically enough – Wyoming’s Carbon County.
“If we can tap into that market and also help out folks that might be experiencing some challenges in the work force today, I think that it can be a win-win situation,” David Halligan, Goldwind America’s CEO, told Diane Caldwell of the New York Times.
The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) says that while the raw number of wind turbine technician jobs is relatively tiny, they are fueling one of the fastest-growing jobs in the U.S. – with jobs in 2016 paying a median wage of over $25 an hour.
Goldwind promised to offer the training program for free to anyone. The company claims the program will begin next month, and it will include safety training and tower climbs at a wind installation in Montana. The end result could be a job with Goldwind, which told the Times it could hire up to 200 workers at its Carbon County wind farm.
The problem for the wind industry, however, is that it may get pushback as it continues to tout the industry’s continued job growth. The BLS notes that while jobs as mining and geological engineers will continue to have modest growth, those jobs pay far more: About $45 an hour is the median wage, or almost $94,000 annually. Of course, the natural gas boom has what has largely demolished the coal industry, and those jobs pay a median wage a tad more than what a wind farm technician makes: $27 and some change per hour.
Goldwind’s announcement comes at a time when the coal industry shows little signs of recovery, despite the current presidential administration’s promise to revive the sector. Some private sector initiatives, including one led by Michael Bloomberg’s philanthropic foundation, are offering programs to retrain former coal miners. And the Trump White House’s pledge to resurrect Big Coal has spurred some spikes in hiring, with reports of signing bonuses and wage increases making the newswires.
But overall, the outlook for coal is grim, including in Wyoming, although some reports suggest the state will gain more coal-related jobs while employment statistics across the Appalachian region continues to shrink. Last year proved to be rough year in the industry, as hundreds of coal miners were laid off by two of the state’s largest mines.
Whether former coal workers will buy into Goldwind’s program presents a huge question mark. Of course, coal miners, and Wyoming voters, voted for Donald Trump by overwhelming margins. The fact that Goldwind has its roots in China could be a non-starter for many of these workers. Wyoming also is the only U.S. state to tax wind power generation, and last year the state’s legislators considered raising those fees. Nevertheless, as advocates for renewables are often quick to say, this is about taking small steps. “At the very least, it’s a good public relations attempt,” wrote Julian Spector on GreenTechMedia about Goldwind’s initiative.
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