Governor McAuliffe promotes clean energy jobs in Virginia's coalfields

ROANOKE, Va. (WDBJ7) One week after Governor Terry McAuliffe signed an executive order designed to reduce carbon emissions from power plants, he kicked off a clean energy jobs tour in southwestern Virginia.

"In southwest and southside we've lost tobacco, furniture, coal, you know we need to do things to make sure those jobs that are gone that we're replacing them," McAuliffe said during a visit to Roanoke on Monday.

And it's already happening, the governor says, with almost 3800 solar jobs created in Virginia over the last three years. And he says the potential upside for renewable energy jobs in areas like far southwest Virginia is substantial.

"Today in Virginia, we now have three times as many solar jobs as coal jobs. I don't think many people realize that," McAuliffe said. "So this energy tour is to say, your children this is what they should study, because we can employ as many of you who are getting skilled in renewable energy and work you into the workforce. This is the future."

Economic development experts say many job skills would translate from coal production to renewable energy, but there are challenges, including people leaving the area and an aging population.

What the region ultimately needs says Senior Economic Development Specialist Sarah Lyon-Hill is a diversified economy.

"You're going to have to look at agriculture. manufacturing, potentially clean energy, and other different opportunities out there, as well as helping overall the population to move forward and look beyond reliance on traditional manufacturing and coal," Lyon-Hill explained.