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Catalyzing a ‘just transition’ from coal to clean energy in West Virginia’s Coalfields
Brookings
2024.05.30
Southern West Virginia is leading a bold transition from coal to clean energy. The Appalachian Climate Technology (ACT Now) Coalition is unique among Build Back Better Regional Challenge (BBBRC) awardees not only for receiving the largest rural grant, but also for being one of the few coalitions led by grassroots, community-based organizations. Anchored in Charleston and Huntington, the ACT Now Coalition represents 21 counties in Southern West Virginia, all of which have the highest levels of coal dependency in the nation and were severely impacted by the national decline in coal production. For example, in Boone County, half of all residents worked in coal mines in 2008; by 2016, total employment had dropped by 80%. Today, the region is left with an abundance of abandoned mines with significant environmental implications, but it also has an emerging renewable climate technologies cluster as well as key assets that position it to be a global leader in clean energy.
Rural and distressed communities can build modernized, inclusive institutions and partnerships to uniquely benefit from large-scale federal investment. This case study explores the design and implementation of the ACT Now Coalition’s portfolio of investments in the region’s physical and civic infrastructure, including on-the-job workforce training, the co-creation of community-based resilience plans, a concerted effort to convert former mine lands to sustainable lands, and the construction of new facilities to spur renewable energy technology and workforce development. It offers lessons on how rural and distressed regions can build the capacity, relationships, and systems necessary to effectively deploy resources to drive prosperity.