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Coal jobs continue slide in Colorado as renewables rise

April 28, 2017 Updated: April 29, 2017 at 4:42 pm
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As political rhetoric about the revitalization the coal industry continues to come out of the White House, new statistics say the opposite, especially in Colorado.

A report published on Tuesday by the Center on Global Energy Policy at Columbia University about the future of coal said that Colorado ranked fifth in country in the largest percentage loss of coal jobs, with 1,351 jobs, or 52 percent eliminated between 2011 and 2016. Only Kentucky, Ohio, West Virginia and Alabama lost more coal jobs by percentage.

Some coal-industry supporters have seen the job losses as a red flag for state and local economies. For his part, President Donald Trump has called for restoring jobs in the coal industry. Tatiana Bailey, the director of the Economic Forum at the University of Colorado Colorado Springs, sees the surge in alternative energy - from natural gas to wind and solar energy - as unstoppable in the private sector.

"A lot of alternative energy companies like Vestas and Warren Buffett's Berkshire Hathaway are all saying that it doesn't matter who is president. The momentum behind alternative energy is already on its way," said Bailey.

Bailey said that mining activity increased in Colorado in the second half of 2016, although not in coal, but largely due to mining for minerals needed in wind turbines.

"Wind energy is really prevalent and starting to take off around the world. Colorado is starting to embrace that," Bailey said.

With the abundance of sun in Colorado and the Southwest, Bailey predicted that solar energy production will continue to grow alongside wind and other renewable energies. As manufacturing prices continue to plummet, she added, the incentive to invest in solar and wind will only multiply.

The Columbia report stated that 49 percent of the decline in domestic coal consumption is due to natural gas prices, 26 percent to lower-than-expected electricity demand, and 18 percent to the growth in renewable energy.

Bailey foresees these factors as long-term drivers of change in the energy economy.

"The big picture is that, in two, four, ten years from now, there is no way that coal won't decline."

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