Communities find new uses for retired coal plant sites

Closing a coal-fired power plant is good for the climate, but it can be hard for the local community. People lose jobs, the city loses tax revenue, and a huge building may be left sitting empty. “I don’t think people really understand how much it can impact the economy, the psychology, the culture, and the society within a coal plant community,” says Bill Schleizer, CEO of the Delta Institute.

The institute is a nonprofit that helps communities plan how to redevelop former coal plant sites. The process can entail costly environmental cleanup, and it’s not always easy to find a new use for the property. “It’s really tricky, and I think there is no one answer,” Schleizer says. But some communities have found success. For example, in Lansing, Michigan, an old power station is now the headquarters of a large insurance company that’s a major employer in the city.

In Baltimore, a retired plant now houses a Barnes and Noble and a Hard Rock Café, and a coal facility in Chicago was redeveloped as a mixed-use housing development and charter school. But many retired coal plants still sit vacant. Others have been demolished and the land left unused. So there’s a lot more to be done to help communities transition to a coal-free future.

Baltimore redeveloped siteThe Pratt Street Power Plant, a historic former power plant located in downtown Baltimore, Md. (Photo credit: John Phelan / Wikimedia)

YaleClimateConnections, September 2019