How Wind Power Is Changing Coal Country

Between concerns about safety, pollution, climate change and finding the end of a finite resource, many energy professionals are looking for a fuel to replace coal. In areas around the world where coal was once king, investors and producers are looking to wind energy. Wyoming once had a burgeoning coal industry. However, as laws changed and other forms of energy, such as natural gas, became cheaper, the mines began to close. Carbon County’s last coal mine closed over a decade ago. The area will soon be home to the largest wind farm on the continent, if not the world. Experts cite the clean energy policies enacted under former President¬†Obama, as well as the climate agreement signed in Paris as a sign that a stable wind market is coming. Currently, two-thirds of power generated in the US comes from coal; wind energy insiders aim to increase the 7% that currently comes from wind power to 20% or more. The wind project is currently working past administrative hurdles. According to the Associated Press, it will eventually¬†be host to as many as 1,000 wind turbines. The power will be traveling out of state. One plan includes a 730-mile power line called the TransWest Express. After construction sometime this year, the line will carry wind energy generated in sparsely populated Wyoming down to large cities in California and Nevada. The US is not the only area seeing a nascent movement from coal to wind. South Africa is Africa’s richest country and the seventh largest coal producer on Earth. The country is also the thirteenth largest CO2 emitted; per capita emissions in South Africa are two times the global average. Coal accounts for 94% of the country’s electricity production and almost half of its liquid fuel for transportation. Concerns about pollution, as well as economic opportunities, are opening the country up to sustainable power initiatives. Plentiful wind and a high number of sunny days make the area a perfect setting for renewable energy. In 2012, the South African government began inviting investors to begin generating clean energy to power the country. Within a year, $5.5 billion US had been invested in the country’s clean energy sector. Another $42 billion is expected in investment by 2020. While clean energy is a boon for power companies and investors, there are also downsides that will need to be addressed. Coal mines once employed thousands of people. The wind farms that will replace them will provide only about 150 full-time jobs to keep them running. Wyoming expects to lose approximately 10,000 coal jobs. To handle some of the transition, the Rawlins branch of the Western Wyoming Community College has started training programs for wind power technicians. Just as coal country is working to adjust to changes, those with energy investments in their portfolios should adjust as well. By adding wind-related investments, they can continue to see growth and good returns.

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