The energy transition is underway. Fossil fuel workers may be left behind.

Tiffany Berger spent more than a decade working at a coal-fired power plant in Coshocton County, Ohio, eventually becoming a unit operator making about $100,000 a year.

But in 2020, energy company American Electric closed the plant, and Ms. Berger had trouble finding a job nearby that offered a similar salary. She sold her home, moved in with her parents and decided to help run their farm in Newcomerstown, Ohio, about 30 minutes away.

They sell some of the corn, beans, and beef they harvest, but that’s just enough to keep the farm running. Ms. Berger, 39, started working part-time at a local fertilizer and seed company last year, making a third of what she used to earn. She said she “never dreamed” of closing the plant.

“I thought I was about to retire from there,” said Mrs. Berger. “It’s a power plant. I mean, everyone needs power.”

The United States is undergoing a rapid transition away from fossil fuels as new battery plants, wind and solar power projects, among others. Clean energy investments Spread across the country. An expanded climate law that Democrats passed last year may be more effective than Biden administration officials estimated in reducing fossil fuel emissions.

While the transition is expected to create hundreds of thousands of clean energy jobsIt could be devastating for many workers and counties that depended on coal, oil and gas for their economic stability.

estimates Potential job loss Years ahead will vary, but nearly 900,000 workers will be directly employed in fossil fuel industries in 2022, according to data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

The Biden administration is trying to mitigate the impact, mostly by providing additional tax benefits for renewable energy projects that are built in areas vulnerable to the energy transition.

But some economists, climate researchers and union leaders said they were skeptical the initiatives would be enough. Besides construction, wind and solar farms typically require few workers to operate, and may not necessarily provide new clean energy jobs. similar wages or align with skills of laid-off workers.

Coal plants have already been closed for years, and the nation coal production It fell from its peak in the late 2000s. US coal-fired generation capacity is expected to decline sharply about 50 percent from current levels by 2030, according to the Energy Information Administration. about 41,000 workers remain in the coal mining industry, down from about 177,000 in the mid-1980s.

The demise of the industry is a problem not only for its workers but also for communities that have long relied on coal for their energy. tax revenue. Loss of revenue from mines, factories, and workers can result in less money for schools, roads, and law enforcement. a The last paper from the Aspen Institute found that from 1980 to 2019, areas exposed to low coal experienced long-term declines in earnings and employment rates, greater uptake of Medicare and Medicare benefits and significant population declines, particularly among younger workers. According to the paper, this “leaves behind a disproportionate number of residents who are old, sick and poor”.

The Biden administration has promised to help those communities weather the impact for economic and political reasons. The failure to provide adequate assistance to displaced workers may translate into the kind of populist backlash that has hurt Democrats in the wake of globalization as companies shift factories to China. Promises to restore coal jobs also helped Donald J. Trump Deciding the 2016 electionswhich guarantees him decisive votes in states such as Pennsylvania.

Federal officials pledged to Job creation in hard-hit communities and ensure that displaced workers “benefit from the new clean energy economy” by offering developers billions in additional tax credits to put renewable energy projects into fossil-fuel-dependent regions.

If new investments such as solar farms or battery storage facilities are established in those areas, it is calledenergy communitiesDevelopers can cover up to 40 percent of the cost of a project. Companies that take credits to produce electricity from renewable sources can earn up to 10 percent more.

He also repealed the law to reduce inflation At least $4 billion In tax credits that can be used to build clean energy manufacturing facilities, among other projects, in areas where there are closed mines or coal plants, and they have been created program It could guarantee up to $250 billion in loans to repurpose facilities such as a shutdown power plant for clean energy uses.

Brian Anderson, executive director of the Biden administration Interagency Working Group On energy communities, he pointed to other federal initiatives, including increased funding for projects in Abandoned reclamation mine lands and relief funds to revitalize coal communities.

However, he said the effort will not be enough, and that officials have limited funding to directly help more communities.

“We stand on the cusp of the possibility that we may still leave them behind again,” Anderson said.

Phil Smith, chief of personnel for United Mine Workers of America, said tax breaks for manufacturers could help create more jobs, but $4 billion likely won’t be enough to attract utilities to every region. He also hoped for more direct assistance for laid-off workers, he said, but Congress has not funded those initiatives.

“We think that’s still something to do,” said Mr. Smith.

Gordon Hanson, author of the Aspen Institute paper and professor of urban policy at Harvard Kennedy School, said he worries that the federal government relies too heavily on tax breaks, in part because companies are likely to be more inclined to invest in growth. Regions. He urged federal officials to increase unemployment benefits for distressed regions and fund workforce development programs.

Even with extra credit, clean energy investments may not reach the hardest hit regions because of this wide range of regions Meets Federal definition of the energy community, said Daniel Raimi, a fellow at Resources for the Future.

“If the intent of this ruling was to provide a special advantage to the hardest-hit fossil fuel communities, I don’t think it did,” Mr. Al-Raimi said.

Local officials have had mixed reactions to the federal effort. Executive Judge Steve Henry of Webster County, Kentucky, said he believes they can bring investments in renewable energy and help attract other industries to the area. The county saw a significant drop in tax revenue after its last mine closed in 2019, and it now employs fewer 911 dispatchers and deputy sheriffs because officials can’t offer more competitive wages.

“I think we can recover,” he said. “But it will be a long recovery period.”

Adam O’Nan, an executive judge for Union County, Kentucky, which has one coal mine, said he believes renewable energy will bring few jobs to the area, and he doubts a plant will be built because of the boycott. Insufficient infrastructure.

“It’s kind of hard to see how you get to Union County at this point,” Mr. Onan said. “We are best suited to coal at the moment.”

Federal and state efforts So far he hasn’t done much to help workers like James Ault, 42, who has been He works at an oil refinery in Contra Costa County, California.for 14 years before being laid off in 2020. To keep his family afloat, he depleted his pension and withdrew most of the money from his 401(k) early.

In early 2022, he moved to Roseville, California, to work at a power plant, but was laid off again four months later. He worked briefly as a meal delivery driver before landing a job in February at a nearby chemical plant.

He now makes $17 less an hour than he did in the refinery and can barely cover his mortgage. However, he said he would not return to the oil industry.

“By pushing us away from gasoline,” Mr. Ault said, “I feel like I’m going to kind of go into an industry that’s kind of dying.”