Does opening a renewable energy source or renewable energy source manufacturing facility in a conventional energy town help offset climate change without hurting the economy? Can it also provide safer and higher paying jobs with greater longevity? An example of how this works out can be found in Kemmerer Wyoming.
Kemmerer Wyoming is known for being a coal town where a major part of the local industry is mining and burning it for power. As the climate change challenge turns into an emergency, the incentive to shut down conventional energy sources like coal is becoming more common. According to the federal Mine Safety and Health Administration, 48 coal mine workers died nationwide in 2010. In 2020, as a result of a sharp decrease in coal production and employment, only five workers died.
However, what about the employment of the workers in these locations who may have worked for generations in these industries. What is the solution? Could it be opening a renewable energy source or manufacturing facility nearby? Can this come in the form of a solar panel manufacturing or perhaps another renewable energy source facility across the street? This would help in situations where a closing down has led to laying off coal miners or coal power plant workers.
Around 180 miners at the Monongalia County Coal Mine in Greene County received notice of permanent layoff from the Pennsylvania Department of Labor and Industry. The layoffs will begin in August and end in September. https://t.co/p0eaKc8ye9 @StateImpactPA
— WITF news (@witfnews) June 10, 2021
An unusual Green solution: The Terrapower Natrium plant
In Kemmerer Wyoming, Terrapower, a Bill Gates backed startup has selected this location to open an advanced nuclear reactor. This reactor is advanced because it uses natrium. Why is this important for the environment? The answer is simple: nuclear power plants provide high energy output without emitting carbon emissions. However, what has caused a hesitancy towards nuclear plants are disasters like Chernobyl and Fukushima. Terrapower aims to have the solution to ease the public’s concern. This is in the form of Natrium plants.
Natrium plants use liquid sodium as a cooling agent instead of water. Sodium has a higher boiling point and can absorb more heat than water, which means high pressure does not build up inside the reactor, reducing the risk of an explosion.
Also, Natrium plants do not require an outside energy source to operate their cooling systems, which can be a vulnerability in the case of an emergency shutdown. While the coal industry in Kemmerer Wyoming employed roughly 400 workers, this Terrapower plant is expected to employ far more, 2,000 people, thus providing a big boost to the local economy with a beneficial ripple effect for the local restaurants and other businesses.
What about in other coal-heavy regions of the country and the world? Would options like opening another Terrapower plant, or a solar panel, wind turbine, or hydropower factory across the street from a coal mine closing down, say in West Virginia, solve the economic issue of switching to renewables?
The argument that going green will hurt the economy in places like West Virginia appears singularly outdated and misguided. At the end of the day, once the energy transition has been accomplished, places like West Virginia and Indiana can still remain energy source areas employing the local economy as they have in the past but doing so in a safer and more up-to-date fashion while at the same time providing more job security from modern long-term energy solutions.
— TerraPower (@TerraPower) December 6, 2021
Why risk life in the name of coal power?
Coal mining is notoriously dangerous with serious risks for miners of explosions, cave-ins, and developing black lungs.
A recent example of this was on April 5, 2010. The day after Easter, a series of explosions rocked the Upper Big Branch mine near Montcoal in Raleigh County.
Twenty-nine men died, making it West Virginia’s worst mining disaster since 78 miners were killed at Farmington in 1968. After the Upper Big Branch explosion, an independent investigation determined that sparks from a longwall miner had ignited a pocket of methane, setting off a chain of explosions that surged more than two miles through the mine.
The panel concluded that the explosions could have been prevented and that systems designed to protect the miners had failed. The report found that the mine’s owner, Massey Energy, had operated its mines in a “profoundly reckless manner.” The U.S. Mine Safety and Health Administration reached similar conclusions, blaming the deaths on an “intentional and aggressive” effort by Massey to ignore safety rules.
Ten years ago today, 29 brave West Virginia coal miners went to work at the Upper Big Branch mine and never returned home to their loved ones. Gayle and I join all West Virginians in grieving their loss & praying for the continued strength of their families. pic.twitter.com/Lfx1QZcvKH
— Senator Joe Manchin (@Sen_JoeManchin) April 5, 2020
Since then, Central Appalachia mine deaths have been low, running about 11 per year, but that’s mainly because of reductions in coal production brought on by cheaper natural gas from hydraulic fracturing drilling.
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Coal once accounted for about 25 percent of the country’s electricity generation; now, it’s only 13 percent. Coal’s demise is yet another blow to the eastern coalfields, especially in West Virginia, whose economy has also been ravaged by opioid addiction and the region’s remoteness.
In places like West Virginia, a transition to renewable energy sources shouldn’t be difficult. The local population is hardworking, very patriotic, and likes to support its local industries. Could a state like West Virginia proudly become a green state with an economically viable transition? One can only hope that the government and local authorities will provide more incentives to make this happen, protecting the worker, the economy, and the environment.
Editor’s Note: The opinions expressed here by Impakter.com columnists are their own, not those of Impakter.com. — In the Featured Photo: Coal Miners. Featured Photo Credit: Pedro Henrique Santos