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Wind energy training programs could help former coal-reliant state pivot to clean energy: 'I want to see our state move forward'

"We have to do what's best for our state, the country, the world."

"We have to do what's best for our state, the country, the world."

Photo Credit: iStock

A West Virginia town that has historically relied upon coal is pivoting to clean energy. While some residents remain skeptical, the promising developments could pay off down the line. 

In February, NPR detailed how Keyser, which has a population of around 5,000, saw its first wind turbines installed in 2012. After the Inflation Reduction Act passed in 2022, West Virginia has seen an infusion of funds to invest in renewable energy projects.

"There's all this green energy money that's coming to West Virginia, and the last two years has seen more economic development announcements than I can remember in this state," said Hoppy Kercheval, the host of West Virginia MetroNews' radio program "Talkline."

According to data from the U.S. Department of Labor cited by NPR, the number of coal miners in the United States has dropped by 90% since the industry's peak about a century ago. A shift toward natural gas and automation technology beginning in the 1980s contributed to this decline, but the sector was on the way out as early as the 1920s. Keyser was no exception. 

Now, a new era is on the horizon as the world works to adopt less polluting ways of generating electricity. In addition to cooling down our overheated planet, powering our world with clean sources provides economic and health benefits. 

Coal is by far the dirtiest fuel. When burned, it releases toxic substances that have been linked to potentially deadly health problems, including cancer, per the Climate Council. 

Doug Vance, who manages the Pinnacle Wind Farm in Keyser, told NPR that he, like the rest of his family, used to work in the coal industry before taking on his latest role. However, at this time, the wind farm isn't able to employ as many people as coal did at its peak. 

Tax credits in the IRA have helped individual Americans happily save thousands of dollars on eco-friendly upgrades, like solar panels and electric vehicles

However, renewables sector labor researcher Eleanor Krause believes an increased focus on workforce development, as opposed to those incentives, could help places like Keyser create even more jobs and take full advantage of federal funds, telling NPR that additional training programs at the state's universities and colleges could prepare people for the new industry. 

According to the U.S. Department of Energy, the renewable energy sector currently employs around 8 million people, but energy jobs "grew faster than overall U.S. employment" in 2021 and 2022. 

Some decommissioned coal plants are even being repurposed for cleaner technologies, including a once highly polluting Nevada plant that now serves as an energy storage facility that helps consumers reduce their electric bills. 

While more work needs to be done to quell the skepticism of some Keyser residents, some West Virginians are indeed taking advantage of existing programs to assist with a transition to clean energy careers, as reported by NPR. 

"I want to stay here, and I want to see our state move forward," said Josh Bowes, who is participating in Eastern West Virginia Community and Technical College's Advanced Technology/Wind Energy Program. "We have to modernize. We have to do what's best for our state, the country, the world, you know?"

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