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As Coal Jobs Leave Kentucky, Where Are the Renewable Energy Jobs?

Kentucky doesn’t distinguish itselfin a new report quantifying so-called “clean energy” jobs announced around the country in the second quarter of 2014.The report from non-profit Environmental Entrepreneurssaid these types of opportunities are growing in the U.S.—it listed 12,500 new clean energy and clean transportation jobs between April and June. Arizona added the most jobs during that time period (3,060 jobs), with California and Michigan in second and third place (2,512 and 1,450 jobs, respectively).One of the forces behind these jobs is theEnvironmental Protection Agency’s Clean Power Plan, which will require states to limit carbon dioxide emissions. A preliminary analysis of the rule suggested Kentucky and nearby states stand to lose anywhere from $1.7 to $2.5 billion in lost coal production. But as some states retire coal-fired power plants, many are investing in renewable energy like wind and solar.But the report didn’t note any new clean tech jobs in Kentucky during the first two quarters of this year. And Mountain Association for Community Economic Development President Justin Maxson said Kentucky should be acting quickly to capitalize on the new environmental regulations, especially because the state’s coal industry is in decline.“We could take advantage of, in a much more aggressive way, solar potential with the right set of incentives and support from the state and we just haven’t done it,” he said, noting nearby states like North Carolina, Virginia and Tennessee that have significantly more energy generated from solar power.Another opportunity that Maxson’s organization has long championed is energy efficiency. Many homes in the commonwealth lack insulation and efficient appliances, and could cut energy usage fairly easily.“One of the compliance paths is energy efficiency and we have so much low-hanging fruit in the state, particularly residential that can both make a dent in emissions and create decent jobs,” he said.Maxson said he believes the market will play a major role in Kentucky’s transition to cleaner energy sources, but state policy could help that switch happen faster. Kentucky legislators have yet to pass a renewable portfolio standard for the state, though one has been introduced every year for the past four legislative sessions.But as states begin addressing carbon emissions to comply with the new federal regulations, Kentucky could be running out of time to act.“At some point the market will take care of it, and it’s just a question of how long, and do we let those jobs related to renewable go to other states or are we willing to do the things in Kentucky to capture that employment,” Maxson said.