An Eastern Kentucky non-profit helps ex-coal miners land jobs in the clean energy industry

King Coal has dominated Appalachia economies for more than a century, powering local economies and offering lucrative, if dangerous, steady employment.

That era is vanishing as mines shutter and coal companies across the country file for bankruptcy.

So, Scott Shoupe is joining other former coal miners in transitioning into a career that’s less about unearthing energy and more about using it super-efficiently. At 43, he’s about to become the third graduate of a “new energy internship” for the region’s displaced coal workers.

MACED career event in Harlan County.
Photo courtesy of MACED.

It’s a project of the Mountain Association for Community Economic Development (MACED), a local nonprofit. MACED says it is devoted to ideas for a more just, sustainable and prosperous economic future in Eastern Kentucky and Central Appalachia. They believe that the time has arrived to talk about a just transition to a post-coal economy.

Enrollees in the program earn full-time wages and health benefits for six months while immersing themselves in the intricacies of lighting, weatherization, solar panels, and decoding utility bills.

Despite Donald Trump’s campaign mantra about championing miners and “putting our great coal miners back to work,” the industry continues to shed jobs.

And that means people like Shoupe need a hand to move from an old, carbon-heavy economy to a new, green one.

The organization got the internship program up and running in 2017 after cobbling together several million dollars from a variety of sources, including a state employment program funded with federal money.

A big boost for MACED came from the Appalachian Regional Commission (whose activities are frequently reported here in REVITALIZATION), a federal agency tasked with supporting economic growth in the 13 Appalachian states.

In February of 2019, the Appalachian Regional Commission announced more than $12 million in funding through its POWER Initiative for Appalachian Kentucky revitalization projects.

According to the recent report, Energy Efficiency Jobs in America, energy efficiency:

  • is America’s fastest growing and largest energy jobs sector;
  • employs workers in 3,000 of America’s 3,007 counties (99.7%);
  • outnumbers landscaping professionals and groundskeepers combined;
  • has twice as many workers as all fossil fuel sectors combined;
  • businesses now total over 350,000, dominated by small businesses (79%);
  • employs more than 300,000 rural Americans, and 900,000 in America’s top 25 metro areas;
  • accounted for 1/2 of the entire energy sector’s job growth in 2017;
  • workers make up 35 percent of all U.S. energy workers; and
  • accounts for more than 1 out of every 6 U.S. construction workers.

Featured photo of Scott Shoupe is by Elizabeth McGowan.

See full article by Elizabeth McGowan in GRIST, from which a portion of this was excerpted.

See MACED website.

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