When Big Coal argues for permission to build coal-fired power plants, it always makes big promises about job creation. A new study shows the promises are no more credible than promises of “clean coal.”
From the Executive Summary of A Fraction of the Jobs: A Case Study of the Job Creation Impact of Completed Coal Fired Power Plants between 2005 and 2009, published by the Ochs Center for Metropolitan Studies:
Proponents of coal-burning power plants have suggested that the counties where they are located can reap an economic windfall through construction and permanent jobs. Their case is largely based on an economic modeling process that often relies on assumptions that are established with a high degree of uncertainty. Very few communities evaluate after the fact whether actual jobs were created.
To supplement existing economic models, this study represents the first effort to look at actual economic activity resulting from the construction of large, new coal-fired power plants in the United States. Of the 21 new plants that became operational between 2005 and 2009, six have capacity of greater than 500 MW. For each of these plants, researchers examined employment in the host counties for the period immediately before, during and after plant construction.
This analysis suggests that new coal plant construction is rarely the economic panacea proclaimed by its proponents.
- While overall employment grew in all six counties, only one county – Pottawattamie County, Iowa experienced an increase in construction employment that was equal to or greater than the predicted employment impact of the coal plant construction project (Walter Scott 4).
- Overall, for the five counties where there were pre–?construction job estimates for new plants, total construction employment at peak was up by 4,137 jobs – compared to projected growth of 7,370 jobs. In other words, for every one hundred new construction jobs promised, just over half – 56 percent – were actually realized.
- More than half of the net increase in construction employment occurred in one of the counties – Pottawattamie County. In the four other cases, coal plant construction only delivered net increases of 1,730 jobs out of a projected increase of 6,370 jobs – just over 27 percent.
- Approximately one in five new construction jobs created in host counties during the period of plant construction appear to have been the result of non–?local factors, such as national trends in construction.
- Local job retention rates in each of the six counties with new coal plants declined during construction – suggesting that many new jobs were going to workers coming from outside of the county.
These findings strongly suggest that the economic development argument for coal plants is relatively weak, especially when compared with the job creation potential of alternative means of addressing demand for power through energy efficiency.