How The Solar Industry Can Help Displaced Coal Miners
To say that coal mining embodies West Virginia’s history would not be an understatement. Many people strongly identify with the “coal miner’s daughter” narrative. Thanks to advertising efforts, slogans such as “Friends of Coal” and “Coal Keeps The Lights On” can be seen on everything from bumper stickers to billboards, even banners flying across small town main streets. The entire history of the state is richly intertwined with a dwindling natural resource, and that creates an enormous economic crisis in a mostly-rural state with few economic avenues.
Coal Mining In West Virginia History
Coal was discovered in West Virginia in 1742 before the area became the state it is today. The first operational coal mine opened in 1810, to power a salt mine near Wheeling, WV. While a few more mines opened through the early 1800’s, most coal production stayed local. Due to the mountainous terrain and long winter season, only navigable rivers were effective in transporting coal out of the region. However, that all changed in 1883.
On March 12, 1883, the first carload of coal was shipped via train. The commercial coal industry erupted almost overnight. Major railroad lines were completed, and coal production boomed to an impressive 3 million tons that year alone. This growth would continue like wildfire. Between 1897 and 1904, the state saw a 125% increase in coal production. This led to the creation of new regulatory bodies, but also a huge population boom. At the time, coal was mostly mined through pure manpower.
With the population influx, a new coal-centered culture was born. Company towns boomed, and coal drove economic development in the state for over a century. In fact, the greatest year of coal production was seen in 1997, with the state producing 181,940,000 tons of coal.
Industrialization, Coal, and Jobs
The coal industry has historically been one that is slow to adapt to progress, especially when it comes to mechanization. Large-scale surface mining did not begin until 1914, and even then the work was mostly still accomplished through grueling manual labor. By 1940, more than half of the coal mined in West Virginia was done by machine. However, the coal mining identity and way of life stayed strong, as did coal company employment; men were required to run those machines. Because this labor was considered a skill, wages increased for the men who adapted to mechanization.
In the 1960’s coal companies began merging, creating powerful conglomerates, continuing to support mining towns, although without the predatory “company store” mentality. Coal continued to primarily employ much of the state, even though the old days of a man with a pickaxe and shovel were well gone. However, starting in 2010, coal jobs rapidly started disappearing.
Where Did Coal-Related Jobs Go?
The Center on Global Energy Policy at Columbia University has found that cheap sources of natural gas are contributing to the decline of the coal industry. In fact, they estimate that natural gas is to blame for well over half of the decrease in coal consumption within the U.S. With new fracking laws, cheap coal coming from China, coal seams beginning to dry up, and changes in environmental regulations, the coal industry will not likely recover from this blow. Unfortunately, West Virginia has been a coal-centered economy for so long that few other economic options exist, evidenced by the fact that West Virginia is one of only eight states experiencing a population decline.
The Financial Times has reached a similar conclusion, citing natural gas as the primary reason coal-fired and nuclear power plants have recently shut down. The rise of gas has helped lower energy costs for consumers, but has negatively impacted other industries. However, despite these losses in the coal industry, not all is lost — especially in West Virginia.
A Brighter, Cleaner Future
It is clear that the entire world has begun developing green energy infrastructure. In fact, despite the losses of coal-fired power plants, our energy supply has risen. This is due in part to solar energy. According to the U.S. Energy Information Association, solar power now accounts for 5.5% of all energy generated in the United States. In fact, the solar industry now provides jobs for more than 260,000 people nationwide.
Given the damage that the coal industry caused to the mountainsides of Appalachia due to mountaintop removal and that the coal seams are emptying, West Virginia stands to make huge economic gains by transitioning into another form of energy procurement: solar. Mountain View Solar, West Virginia’s oldest solar company, aims to help the economic future of the state by helping the very same coal miners stay in the mountains they love.
Mountain View Solar and Solar Power In West Virginia
Mountain View Solar seeks to maintain a high level of community involvement. We recognize the many struggles West Virginians face, and respect the high level of experience of those who have worked in the coal industry. Because of this, we help retrain those individuals in order to keep them at home, providing power for the ones they love. West Virginia is uniquely situated to transition to clean energy and become a national leader. More importantly, we are creating jobs here at home.
Anyone can be involved in the solar revolution, and we have successfully completed installations that range in size from small residential projects to large commercial structures. In addition, we focus on giving back to the community, providing free solar evaluations and donating solar panels to local organizations with every solar system purchased. Everyone can benefit from solar installations, as excess power generated is returned to the grid and earns you credit towards future bills. You even qualify for the Federal solar tax credit, or ITC, valued at 30% of the total cost of installation.
For more information regarding solar power in West Virginia, reach out to us today. We have installed over 75% of the solar panels in the state, and we want to hear from you. Allow us to earn your business, and help incorporate you and yours into our family. As a local, family-owned business, we support you. Join us in creating a cleaner, brighter future for West Virginia. With your help, solar can keep the lights on.