Coal Plant Redevelopment Roadmap: A Free Guide for Coal Communities in Transition
Delta Institute compendium of strategies for coal communities in transition can point the way towards a post-coal economy.
The energy market in the United States is changing with incredible speed thanks to the emergence of several sources of new cheap energy, especially natural gas, solar and wind power. These economic forces, together with growing regulatory, community and economic pressures, are shutting down coal-fired power plants across the country. The combined drag of abundant and cheap natural gas, automation in coal production, aging coal plants, a fluctuating regulatory environment, dramatically falling costs for renewable energy alternatives (e.g. solar energy down ~80% in the last 8 years alone), and societal demand for cleaner energy are driving severe decline in employment, coal production and economic activity related to the coal industry.
In the last fifteen years, communities from Appalachia in the East to the Powder River Basin in the West have experienced increasing rates of coal plant closures, leaving communities reliant on the coal economy for a century or more in the sudden need to begin the process of transitioning to a post-coal economy. Even under the best circumstances, this would be a large challenge for any community and many communities are suffering serious short term pain. In most cases, the evolution of a real and robust economic alternative will be a decades-long process.
Among the many municipal challenges posed by the epochal transition away from coal is the question of how to best approach the discussion of the impact this transition has on people and places along the way. Coal fired power plants are often significant employers and substantial contributors to the local tax base. Plants represent a part of the community history, a touchstone of area achievement and a source of community pride. Often, coal plants are mourned when they close.
With early planning, local governments can leverage this time of transition to move to a new, more diversified economy.
While the impact of a coal plant closure is different in each community, there are often shared barriers to site reclamation and reuse, and common challenges associated with a decreased tax base and varying degrees of job loss. Many communities with decommissioned coal plants find themselves stuck in the early stages of redevelopment. Redevelopment is complicated because it takes place through a continuum of actions that are controlled by public, private, and community actors. However, strategies have emerged for municipalities to build capacity to plan for the closure, facilitate transparent stakeholder engagement, and create a streamlined redevelopment process that maximizes benefits to the community.
To guide communities through this process with resources and strategies suited to post-coal economy transitions, the Delta Institute has recently published the Coal Plant Redevelopment Roadmap. The post-coal compendium provides coal-impacted municipalities with information and resources to navigate the transition process. Throughout the document, community concerns and site specific impacts are each considered to highlight that site reuse can and should be leveraged to create positive impacts across the community.
Delta’s roadmap is intended to inform the municipal government’s planning and response to closure, recognizing their decision-making authority. The document may also be useful for other representatives of the community, such as environmental or community advocates, economic development organizations or citizens at large, who will be impacted by the closure and who will have a positive impact on the transition process, including those from: school boards, local industry, chambers of commerce, local economic development districts, downtown development authorities, environmental groups, community foundations, and others.
Each stakeholder offers expertise that can impact the transition process and outcome. Delta Institute hopes its free roadmap may serve to spur the local citizenry to take action, understanding how their voices can be integrated into the larger process and are necessary for lasting change.
Delta’s post-coal roadmap is divided into five modules that provide tools for municipal governments and others to assess their capacity, identify and engage key stakeholders, and plan for redevelopment of their coal plant site.
Each module offers guidance on a different phase of the transition process through a series of guiding questions, worksheets, and resource tables. The roadmap will lead users through the following modules:
- Building a redevelopment and transition team
- Assessing economic and environmental impacts
- Determining site challenges and opportunities
- Planning an engagement strategy
- Developing reuse ideas from a shared community vision
Most transitions do not follow a straight path. Regardless of where a community is in the transition process, the Coal Plant Redevelopment Roadmap provides tools and resources that practitioners can use as their community embarks on this complex effort. Whether a community is home to an active coal plant, or the facility has already been retired and possibly even demolished, the modules contained in Delta’s new post-coal redevelopment roadmap will help community leaders know what lies ahead as they prepare for a post-coal future.
The graphic below illustrates the high-level milestones for site-specific developments at a coal plant site, as well as the iterative and ongoing community process that takes place at each phase of the transition.