ReImagining the Shuttered Coal Plant

With suitable investments, shuttered and shuttering coal plants can be redeveloped for new opportunities in the sustainable industries of the future.

Some of the most significant assets in coal communities are shuttered coal-fired power plants, once serving as the region’s primary source of good jobs and the foundation for the local tax base. Coal plant closures devastate both the workers and communities who depend on them. A critical component of any sustainable development strategy for coal communities includes redeveloping these properties for sustainable industries taking advantage of its assets while providing new opportunities for the skilled workforce.

In the four states of Central Appalachia–Ohio, West Virginia, Kentucky, and Pennsylvania—88 coal plant sites were no longer in operation in 2024, and another 21 operated only on stand-by mode. Many of these plants have been blighted and unused for years. Today, there is opportunity for redevelopment.

Overview of shuttered coal plants in Central Appalachia

Shuttered Coal Plants in the Ohio River Valley of Appalachia (aka Coal Country)

 

With a changing energy market and mounting community pressure, the aging technology in coal-fired power plants has been decommissioned – closed – across the country. There are many stories from across the nation of communities in the trenches of coal transition that illustrate why comprehensive redevelopment planning is important. 

Few places have been harder hit with coal plant closures than Central Appalachia. Some shuttered coal plants in Central Appalachia have been vacant for 30 years or more; others are still operating, with closure slated before 2030. Technology and changing market conditions have rendered the plants obsolete.
In the four states of Central Appalachia–Ohio, West Virginia, Kentucky and Pennsylvania–there were 88 coal plant sites no longer in operation and 21 only on stand-by mode in early 2024. Many of these plants have sat blighted and unused for years. Today there is opportunity for redevelopment.

Download the “Energy and Oversight” PowerPoint

 

Shuttered Coal Plants in the Eastern United States

 

Interactive Map

Coal Power Plant Redevelopment Visualization Tool

For the interactive map, with significant data about each plant, see: United States Department of Energy  

Today’s growing economy presents opportunities to redevelop shuttered or closing coal plant sites.

In some places, new technologies are transforming coal waste remaining on a site to products used in construction materials. Growing sectors like artificial intelligence and data centers are building new facilities. Overseas factories are moving back and looking for sites for heavy industrial production. These operations need the heavily reinforced electric power connections; acres of industrial-use land; water, sewer, fiber optic, natural gas and other elements of infrastructure essential to industrial sites; multiple forms of transportation access; and the skilled workforce of near-by communities. There are substantial federal and state funds available to redevelop these sites – grants, loans and tax credits –  from the federal Bipartisan Infrastructure Law, the Inflation Reduction Act and the CHIPS Act and from state programs. 

This on-line toolkit reviews important terms, elements and steps in redevelopment. Many case studies of redevelopment of shuttered coal plant sites are provided along the way. In this first section we give an overview of the toolkit; read the other three sections for more detailed information.

Note: Decommissioning processes of coal plants are nonstandard, because coal plants, and the process of decommissioning them, is regulated state by state. Further, plants may be “mothballed” rather than fully decommissioned, meaning that they are not used, but remain in operational stasis. Understanding where the plant is in the process is critical to moving forward for community planning purposes.

Coal Plant Site – Assets

Coal plants connect to significant transportation networks, often including extensive rail and water networks (more environmentally-friendly ways of transporting goods). They also contain heavily reinforced electrical grid infrastructure and energy-generating assets that can be repurposed for cleaner energy technologies. Communities where these sites are located also have a highly skilled workforce with foundational skills in energy production that are transferable to the new energy economy.

Overcoming Barriers to Redevelopment

Without focused effort and targeted resources, these sites are more likely than not to sit indefinitely as brownfields and become a blight on their communities, as some sites long shuttered have already done. Something similar happened following the collapse of the nation’s steel industry due to global outsourcing. Too many former steel facilities still blight their hollowed-out communities five decades later.

A number of significant barriers impede redevelopment of coal sites, including:

  1. Lack of community acceptance of closure or pending closure
  2. Lack of alternative vision for a site’s highest and best use developed with broad stakeholder input and community buy-in; 
  3. In some cases, but not all, a reluctant property owner 
  4. Environmental hazards on-site with unknown remediation costs 
  5. Information barriers – who owns the site? What can be done with it? What regulations apply? What resources can we access? What laws apply? Do we need policy changes? Who do we need at the table? Are there best practices?
  6. Lack of community resources in long-exploited regions, high-poverty areas
  7. Distrust among key stakeholders and with property owners (utility companies, elected officials, organized labor, racial justice groups, and environmental organizations).

This webpage is meant to serve as a “handbook” for redeveloping shuttered coal plants. It is designed to empower community stakeholders with the information they need to have a meaningful say in what these important assets in their communities, while working towards achieving a site’s “highest and best use”–building on existing assets and skills of workforce to create jobs equivalent to those of the coal industry, generate equivalent tax base for the communities housing these sites, and promote sustainable, climate-friendly options that are healthy for neighboring residents.

To help overcome barriers to redevelopment:

TURNING LIABILITIES INTO ASSETS

KNOW YOUR COMMUNITY