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On the upside, old coal plants often have rail and significant power infrastructure. On the downside, the sites are usually contaminated with coal ash, buried onsite for decades. With more of these buildings being shuttered throughout coal country, counties can apply for grants from local economic development agencies to do a feasibility study to discover how the buildings can be repurposed for a clean energy economy.
The Just Transition Fund (JTF), the only national philanthropic initiative focused solely on coal community economic transition, is pleased to announce it has provided commitments to United Mine Workers of America Career Centers, Inc. (UMWACC) to help unlock a federal Build Back Better grant enabling the UMWACC to recruit and train more than 500 dislocated miners and others in southwestern Pennsylvania for jobs in the robotics industry.
While solar investment is receiving unprecedented federal funding, it still faces cultural and social barriers in former coal communities. One key, as seen in Wise County, Virginia, is through locals leading the charge to revitalize the economy in their own hometowns. “I’m from the coalfields,” said Emma Kelly, outreach director for Solar Workgroup of Southwest Virginia.. “And you have to understand. Coal mining is not just a job. The coal industry is not just an employer.” Wise County native Matt McFadden’s solar company employer started an apprentice program for local high schoolers that pays $17/hour. “When a lot of parents and grandparents saw that there were benefits for their children,” he said, “thought processes changed.”
Through the National Association of Counties’ Building Resilient Economies in Coal Communities initiative, coal communities going through transition are opening their doors to communities on the verge of a transition to offer inspiring examples of economic diversification. A recent site visit to Southwest Virginia included tours of a solar farm installed on a former coalfield and the future site of a regional grain terminal to support the craft beverage industry.
Our reflections on the 2022 National Convening and how we plan to help coal communities seize this historic moment.