Reimagining Illinois’s Coal Communities

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This summer, communities in Illinois with coal plants or mines will have a unique opportunity to imagine a future with alternative energy – to reimagine their communities after coal mining. The conference, Climate Economy in Southern Illinois – Creating Resilient Businesses, Jobs, and Communities, will be held in Carbondale on June 12-13, 2019. The conference is for city and county governments, non-profits, entrepreneurs, and anyone interested to discuss how to maintain, reimagine, and/or rebuild our rural economies.

Do coal communities need to be reimagined? Illinois currently has 19 operating coal power plants and 27 active coal mines. Only one of those coal power plants was built in this century, and most date to the 1960s and 1970s. Since 2010, nine plants have been retired and more are scheduled to be retired in the coming years. Eight of the 27 active mines didn't produce any coal in 2017.

Should we worry about this trend? Probably. Coal power generation peaked almost 20 years ago, and has been on a steady decline since. Natural gas and renewable energy are projected to replace coal as the leading sources of energy in the US. With passage of the Future Energy Jobs Act in 2016, the landscape in Illinois is even more favorable for solar and wind production. And young people are moving to places that more closely fit their values – that often means places that support environmental sustainability. Businesses already know that sustainability sells with millennials and Gen Z.

We have a chance to rethink Illinois' landscape, and reimagine our small towns, with the goal of keeping and attracting young people and new businesses. We aren't alone in addressing those goals. The Just Transition Fund, for example, gives grants to communities to help with workforce development, economic restructuring, and policy action. The USEPA has a program to help rural towns rethink local economies. And, of course, University of Illinois Extension has educators throughout the state who are dedicated to helping our rural communities stay vibrant and plan for the future.

Please join us June 12 at the Carbondale Convention Center to learn, network, and plan for the future of Southern Illinois. Register here.

Map courtesy of Just Transition Fund