Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Posts Tagged ‘coal’

29112018_polandcoal

Photo: Kacper Pempel/Reuters
In the top photo jeweler Katarzyna Depa, 26, holds a silver ring with coal at her atelier in Katowice, Poland. Below, Grzegorz Chudy, 36, paints at his atelier in Katowice, where affordable rents have drawn artists.

Having recently watched the devastating 1976 documentary Harlan County, USA about a Kentucky mining strike, I’ve become a little more skeptical about longtime miners’ ability to transition to a new kind of life. Although I have blogged about efforts to help miners learn programming skills, for example, or be trained for jobs in the solar industry, such things may attract only younger people.

In this story from Public Radio International (PRI), we learn about recent changes in Poland, where the conservative government still supports the mining despite climate-change issues.

“When the Wieczorek mine, one of the oldest coal mines in Poland, closed [last] March, Grzegorz Chudy noticed for the first time the neighborhood was vibrant with trees in the full bloom of spring. The smell was heady.

” ‘It was incredible. You never knew all those trees were there,’ he told Reuters in his art studio in a housing estate for mining families in the southwestern Polish city of Katowice. ‘The smell wasn’t there while coal was being transported on trucks. The dust covered it up.’

“The Wieczorek mine in Katowice, with its towering brick shaft, is among dozens closing down throughout Poland, home to one of the most polluted coal mining regions in Europe. …

“Poland has had a painful and difficult experience with the economic transition from coal. Even as it counts down to [November 2018 climate talks], it announced plans for a new coal mine in the south of the country.

“Its government drew support in part from those with an emotional attachment to the job security, social fabric and national pride associated with mining that overlooked the downsides for health and the planet. …

“Chudy, 36, whose paintings often depict the life and architecture of Nikiszowiec, is one of hundreds of people who have moved to the area, drawn by its industrial feel and affordable housing.

“Built to house the families of miners at the start of the 20th century, Nikiszowiec was designed as a self-sufficient neighborhood with its own communal bread ovens and pigsties, as well as a bath house for miners and laundry facilities. …

“Those in the artistic community say their work could only exist with the inspiration provided by decades of mining.

” ‘For me using coal in a different way than it used to be, which was energy, shows its completely new face, so we can call it our new, cool black gold,’ said Katarzyna Depa, who makes jewelry from coal.

“But for those with mining in the blood, moving on is harder and the smell of coal dust is as sweet as blossom. Above all, they miss the community spirit even if it meant shared danger and hardship.”

More at PRI — which is, by the way, an amazing window on the world. Check it out if you don’t know it.

Read Full Post »

crawick-multiverse_140715_01

Photos: Charles Jencks
Landscape artist Charles Jencks has turned a Scottish coal mine into a work of art reminiscent of Stonehenge.

It’s not news that to save the plant we need to move away from using coal. Every few days, it seems, someone else is getting on board. Yesterday, for example, I saw that a big Italian insurance company decided to stop insuring coal plants. (Story at Reuters, here.) And remember this post about a German coal town turning an old mine into a giant, water-powered battery?

Well, human ingenuity continues to work at the problem of coal mines present and past. In this story, a Scottish mine was turned into artwork.

Writes Contemporist, “Landscape artist Charles Jencks has completed the transformation of Crawick Multiverse, a former coal mine that has now become a 55-acre artland, visitor attraction and public amenity. …

“Crawick Multiverse is a major land restoration and art project in Dumfries & Galloway, utilising landscape art to transform a former open cast coal mine into an outdoor space that can be enjoyed by future generations.

“Privately funded by the Duke of Buccleuch and designed by globally-renowned landscape artist Charles Jencks, Crawick Multiverse … links the themes of space, astronomy and cosmology, creating a truly inspiring landmark that will appeal to everyone from art enthusiasts and scientists to the wider community. …

“The site is managed by the Crawick Artland Trust which includes trustees from the local communities surrounding the site.”

The BBC adds that the project “follows on from other works by Mr Jencks including the likes of Northumberlandia in north east England, the Garden of Cosmic Speculation north of Dumfries and the Beijing Olympic Park’s Black Hole Terrace.

“He said: ‘This former open cast coal site, nestled in a bowl of large rolling hills, never did produce enough black gold to keep digging. But it did, accidentally, create the bones of a marvellous ecology.

” ‘The landscape had to be healed, it had to welcome the nearby communities of Sanquhar, Kelloholm and Kirkconnel, and help restore the locality both economically and ecologically.’ ” More.

More great pictures at Contemporist, here.

crawick-multiverse_140715_03

Read Full Post »

Photo: Marcus Teply/PRI
Dr. Andre Niemann with a partial model of his plan to turn Prosper-Haniel into a pumped storage system (basically a giant, water-powered battery). “It shows responsibility. It shows that if mining is over you’re not leaving the place.” 

Recently I read a sad story about a coal miner in the U.S. who once thought he and his infant son would have secure jobs long into the future. Now his mine is closing and he’s off to find another.

What’s sad to me is that although there are opportunities to retrain in up and coming industries, he and his family are chasing a dead one. But I can understand that he wants to keep earning six figures, a salary unlikely in most fields for which he might train.

Meanwhile, in Germany, people in an old coal town are biting the global-warming bullet and moving on.

Valerie Hamilton reports at PRI’s the World, “For most people, the top of the mine shaft at the Prosper-Haniel coal mine in Bottrop, Germany, just looks like a big black hole. But Andre Niemann looked into that hole and saw the future.

“Niemann leads the hydraulic engineering and water resources department at the University of Duisberg-Essen, in the heart of German coal country, western Germany’s Ruhr Valley. For more than 150 years, Germany mined millions of tons of anthracite, or hard coal, from coal mines here that at their peak employed half a million miners. But that’s history now — Germany’s government decided a decade ago to end subsidies that made German hard coal competitive with imports. …

“The end of hard coal mining in Germany comes just as Germany is working to slash its CO2 emissions by replacing fossil fuels with renewable energy sources like wind and solar. The country calls it the Energiewende, or ‘energy transition.’ But wind and solar aren’t always there when they’re needed, so a key challenge of the Energiewende is to find ways to store sun and wind energy for later use.

“One way to do that is with a pumped energy storage system — basically a giant, water-powered battery. When the sun is shining or the wind is blowing, the excess energy is used to pump large amounts of water uphill into a reservoir. When the sun goes down or the wind dies, that excess energy can be released by letting the water flow back downhill, through turbines that generate electricity like in a hydroelectric dam.

“Existing pump storage systems make use of hills or mountains for the necessary difference in altitude. But Niemann says the depth of a coal mine — like Prosper-Haniel — would work just as well.

“He and a team of researchers have worked up a plan to turn the mine into a pumped energy storage system that could generate 200 megawatts of power, enough for almost half a million homes. Water would be pumped through a closed system of pipes from 2,000 feet below ground level up to the surface and fall back down again on demand, regenerating 85 percent of the renewable energy used to pump the water up in the first place — energy that would otherwise be wasted. …

“Niemann, who grew up in a coal-mining family in the coal city of Ibbenbueren, says it would be a powerful symbol that as Germany transforms its energy landscape, coal regions won’t be left behind. …

“[Miner Ernst] Mueller explains the deal offered to him and every other mine worker in 2007, when the German government moved to end the subsidies that kept Germany’s hard coal mines afloat. …

“Underground workers over 50, and above-ground workers over 55, like Mueller, can retire early, paid by a company fund, as long as they have 20 years on the job. About 400 of their younger co-workers can stay on to maintain the mine area after it closes. The rest get job placement and training. Beike says [the company] promises to find every worker a new job. …

“The hope is, eventually, green business will pick up where coal left off. To prepare, the region has opened a new technical college in Bottrop to train the next generation of workers — not in coal, but in fields like green tech, water management and electro-mobility.”

More at Public Radio International, here.

Read Full Post »

Photo: Jason Margolis
Solar Holler founder Dan Conant, foreground, observes a solar roof installation in Lewisburg, West Virginia.

As warehouse and distribution jobs proliferate and meet a need for lower-skilled employment, I’m beginning to accept that companies like Amazon that destroy traditional industries have some redeeming social virtues. After all, times change.

Perhaps no American workers feel the changing times more deeply than do those in the coal industry. But displaced workers who are open to new opportunities seem to be emerging from the disruption OK.

Jason Margolis provided a coal-country report for Public Radio International’s excellent 50 States series.

“Tanner Lee Swiger graduated from high school in Wayne County, West Virginia this spring,” writes Margolis. “His father and grandfather both worked in West Virginia’s coal industry. But not Swiger, or any of his high school classmates.

“Nobody from his graduating class is working in coal, says Swiger. ‘[They’re] working in fast food or not working at all.’

“Not Swiger. He has a job installing rooftop solar panels. He says his family is delighted with it. …

“Swiger is working as an apprentice with Solar Holler, which was founded four years ago by 32-year-old Dan Conant. Conant doesn’t see solar energy and coal at odds with each other.

“ ‘The way I think about it, as a West Virginian, is that West Virginia has always been an energy state, and this is just the next step. It’s the next iteration,’ says Conant. …

“He left his job at the US Department of Energy to start Solar Holler, to try to help slow his state’s economic slide. By many metrics, West Virginia is one of the poorest states in the country. …

“ ‘We need to find new things,’ says Conant. ‘It’s not going to be the coal industry of the past.’ …

“Solar may be an energy of tomorrow, but … coal mining jobs in West Virginia typically pay more than twice the starting wages for solar. But those jobs are increasingly hard to find, and Solar Holler, and other solar installers, need workers now. …

“Solar Holler is partnering with a non-profit called the Coalfield Development Corporation. They own the building. Beyond solar jobs, Coalfield Development is teaching former coal workers skills like woodworking and farming.

‘Apprentices with Coalfield Development work 33 hours, spend six hours a week at a community college, and three hours engaged in ‘life-skills mentorship.’ Nearly 90 people have entered the program. ”

More at “50 States: America’s place in a shrinking world,” here, where you can listen to the story or read it.

Read Full Post »

Photograph: Cassady Rosenblum
Garland Couch (seated) works on some code with James Johnson. The men are part of an effort to turn coal country into Silicon Holler.

About a year ago, I wrote a post about Mined Minds, a nonprofit founded by two young Northerners to help jobless miners learn computer coding skills. This follow-up shows that the idea is taking root and spreading.

Cassady Rosenblum writes at the Guardian, “As Highway 119 cleaves through the mountains of eastern Kentucky, exposed bands of black gold stretch on for miles – come get us if you can, they tease. And for years, miners did: they had good employment that earned them upwards of $70,000 a year and built a legacy of blue-collar pride in the region. ‘We felt like what we did was important,’ says Rusty Justice, a self-described entrepreneur who hauled his first truck of coal in eighth grade. And it was. In 2004, coal powered half of America’s electrical needs.

“But by 2011, Justice and his business partner, Lynn Parish, who worked in coal for 40 years, began to worry. … So the two coal men from Pikeville began thinking about how they could diversify.

Coal country must transform itself into something else, a new place on the map the hopeful call ‘Silicon Holler.’

“In its own, proud way, Pikeville has a new message for America: we’re ready to move on if you’re ready to let us do it our way. That means some help from the government, but not a handout. ‘We need to identify the doers and facilitate their ideas,’ Justice says. …

“ ‘We considered just about everything. Windfarms, solar farms, hog farms – you name it,’ he laughs. As unemployment tore through their 7,000-person town, Justice and Parish prayed for a business idea that would not just pay, but pay people what they had been making before in the mines. …

“Their breakthrough came when Justice and Parish visited a workforce retraining expo in 2014 in Lexington, where they learned about coding.

“The concept appealed to them. Each year, 600,000 US tech jobs go unfilled, jobs that ultimately go overseas but could be on-shored if more Americans had the right skills. Even better, the job paid the same as the mines.

“Justice had seen first-hand how miners employed logic to solve life or death problems underground. Still, he wondered, could a coal miner really code? He called his computer-savvy friend Justin Hall with that question. ‘I don’t see why not,’ Hall said. ‘Great, you’re hired,’ Justice told him.

“They placed ads for their new web and app design company, Bitsource, in 2015, then watched as more than 900 applications rolled in. From this pool, they chose 11 former miners who scored highest on a coding aptitude test. Two years later, in an old Coca-Cola factory by the Big Sandy river, nine men and one woman remain.

“On a late March day, Hall stands at a whiteboard [and] fills the board with modules and nodes as the guys shout out ideas in lingo that eventually makes Garland Couch, a 55-year-old coder, pause at how far they’ve come. ‘Man, we’re nerds now,’ he laughs, pushing his Under Armour cap back on his head. After the session, they break for lunch, then return to work with Drupal software on laptops whose Apple icons glow next to bumper stickers that say ‘Friend of Coal.’

“Despite the team’s new profession, the stickers are a nod of respect to an industry they all got their start in, an industry that still employs some of their friends and family. As Parish is fond of saying, change is necessary, ‘but you don’t want to upset the one who brought you to the dance.’ ”

Read about other companies retraining miners in Kentucky, here.

 

Read Full Post »

When I told my husband that playwriting teacher Peter Littlefield wanted class members to base a scene on an early moment when we first looked objectively at the adult world, he volunteered memories of his own.

Last weekend, Suzanne, John, and their spouses got to hear about a Philadelphia childhood and the horse that delivered milk, going reliably to the next house while the deliveryman placed bottles at the last one. They learned about an elementary school visit to a dairy company, and how it hit my husband so young that some men spend their whole lives lifting bottles into crates. He also remembered catching the tail end of the street lamplighter age. He has since mentioned ice delivery at the Jersey Shore and how you would put a special sign in the window indicating how many pounds of ice you wanted for that week.

There was also coal delivery in large canvas bags. Believe it or not, my husband is not that old.

Even Suzanne and John should remember that coal was delivered next door for several years after we moved to town. And clearly coal is still being delivered somewhere, as in this video a guy put on YouTube. I especially like the speech balloons he added.

Read Full Post »

%d bloggers like this: