What Happens to a Coal Plant After it Closes?

Due to a changing energy sector and mounting regulatory and community pressure, coal-fired power plants are shutting down across the country. Aging coal plants are struggling to meet increased regulatory standards while staying economically competitive with natural gas burning facilities. Additionally, they negatively impact the health of community residents.

As coal plants retire, it is important to understand the full economic, social, and environmental impacts the closure will have on the local community as well as consider the future reuse of the site and how it could best serve local residents.

Coal plants may employ hundreds of people and contribute to the local tax base. Plants are often the top taxpayer for city governments, and this loss of revenue often leads to an increase in property taxes for residents of the community. Managing these economic losses requires forethought and planning.

While there are obvious community health benefits, the community can gain much more from the closing of a plant. Plant retirements offer a unique opportunity for the local community to come together and define a new vision for the site that meets their needs, whether those needs are jobs, residential housing, green space, or another industrial use.

Chicago’s recent coal plant retirements provide a great example. In 2012, after years of community and environmental justice organizing, Fisk and Crawford, two major coal plants on Chicago’s southwest side, were decommissioned. Recognizing the importance of stakeholder engagement, Chicago’s Mayor appointed Delta Institute to lead the Fisk and Crawford Reuse Task Force, which included government, business and community leaders. Over the last three years, Delta worked with Task Force members to develop guiding principles and a shared vision for the reuse of both sites. The Chicago Tribune provided a recent update on redevelopment efforts of the Fisk power plant site in Chicago’s Pilsen neighborhood. Delta continues to work with Task Force members on the reuse of the Crawford site in the Little Village neighborhood of Chicago.

In 2014, Delta Institute conducted a national scan of coal plant redevelopment efforts across the country and developed a brief study, “Transforming Coal Plants into Productive Community Assets,” detailing how communities have redeveloped those sites. From its national scan and its experience with Chicago’s Fisk and Crawford Reuse Task Force, Delta asserts that a successful model for redevelopment includes transparent stakeholder engagement, facilitation by a neutral third party, a clear vision of reuse, and active support from local government.

Read our report, Transforming Coal Plants into Productive Community Assets.

Read the Fisk and Crawford Reuse Task Force Report.

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