Graphic with men raising solar panel

Coal mines used to be one of the largest employers in West Virginia. But as other, cheaper sources of energy replace coal, jobs in the industry have declined. Now young people in the state need a new career plan.

Dennison: “What we are essentially trying to do is rebuild the Appalachian economy from the ground up.”

That’s Brandon Dennison, CEO of the Coalfield Development Corporation. The not-for-profit provides unemployed West Virginians with job training, education and placement in a variety of fields. For example, sustainable building and agriculture.

The job training program started small, with only three people in 2012. Since then, the program’s 18 graduates have all been placed in permanent jobs. Now it has almost 40 enrolled.

In twenty fifteen, the organization added solar installation to its family of training programs. Solar energy might seem surprising for coal country, but Dennison says that the demand is growing.

Dennison: “We see real economic opportunity in solar.”

Working in coal was once a way of life in West Virginia, but Dennison says young people are eager to embrace new ideas and opportunities.

Dennison: “It is a scary time but it’s also a chance to rebuild ourselves.”

Reporting credit: Sarah Kennedy/ChavoBart Digital Media.
Image graphic: Created by David McCarthy.

Sara Peach

Sara Peach is the editor-in-chief of Yale Climate Connections. She is an environmental journalist whose work has appeared in National Geographic, Scientific American, Environmental Health News, Grist,...