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Coal Plants Don't Create All That Many Construction Jobs After All

The construction of coal-fired power plants is always heralded as an employment bonanza for their host communities. Unfortunately, it's often a lie.

Proponents of the coal industry often point to job creation as one of the many alleged benefits of the resource. Whenever a new coal plant is proposed, for instance, coal companies make big promises about how many people will be employed—particularly in construction jobs—thanks to the project.

The problem is, those projected numbers often dwarf the reality.

The Ochs Center for Metropolitan Studies, just released a report concerning the six large-scale coal-fired power plants built between 2005 and 2009. For each of the plants, researchers "examined employment in the host counties for the period immediately before, during and after plant construction."

In four of the six instances, the actual number of construction jobs created was far lower than projected. In one case in Nebraska, there weren't estimates given beforehand, but overall construction employment dropped during the plant's construction.

What's more, in each of the host counties, data revealed that the employment retention rate dropped during the period of construction. In other words, "county residents held a smaller share of jobs located in the host county during the period of a plant construction." Here are the employment retention rates for the six counties studied.

Even in the counties where there were overall increases in job numbers, a declining percentage of these jobs went to local residents. (Coal companies are notorious for both carting in cheap labor and shipping profits out of local communities.)

This Ochs Center report only looks at the impact of coal plant construction on construction jobs. I'll have to dig deeper into employment data to find out more about coal mining itself, as well as other energy industries, including jobs created by energy efficiency initiatives. But taken on its own, this report plainly illustrates that the construction of new coal plants is not the economic boon it's often billed to be.

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