‘This is the Future’: Rural Virginia Pivots from Coal to Green Jobs

The Secure Futures team works installing solar panels on the roof of St Paul elementary school in Virginia.
The Secure Futures team works installing solar panels on the roof of St Paul elementary school in Virginia.

Region’s long awaited energy and economic transition will be substantially boosted by US’s first climate law, the Inflation Reduction Act

by Nina Lakhani in Wise county and Bluefield, Virginia with photographs by Mike Belleme

When Mason Taylor enrolled at the local vocational school with dreams of becoming an electrician like his dad, it was assumed that the ninth-grader would eventually end up moving away from Wise county, Virginia, to find a decent job.

Now 19, Taylor just bought a truck after a summer apprenticing with a crew of electricians installing rooftop solar systems at public schools in the county. He was among a dozen or so rookies paid $17 an hour, plus tools and a travel stipend, as part of the state’s first solar energy youth apprenticeship scheme.

“Around here it’s always been coal, coal, coal, we didn’t hear much about green energy,” said Taylor, who comes from a long line of miners. “This is a great opportunity to learn, great pay, and maybe I’ll be able to stay here in the mountains with my family if solar takes off.”

In the past decade or so, unemployment and poverty have forced many to leave south-west Virginia as the coal industry’s decline ricocheted across central Appalachia. It’s torn many families apart and any talk of renewable energy was considered anti-coal, but attitudes are starting to change.

“We have to get away from fossil fuels that are killing our planet. Technology has come a long way and will keep getting better. This is the future,” said chief electrician Jimmy Rogers, 49, whose family worked on the coal trains in Tennessee.

Read the full article, ‘This is the Future’: Rural Virginia Pivots from Coal to Green Jobs, at The Guardian.

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