Reimagine Appalachia discusses job losses from closed coal plants

Photo provided The second coal plant to close in Washington County, Ohio, was the American Municipal Power Gorsuch site in Marietta.

REIMAGINE APPALACHIA focused on site redevelopment and community revitalization during a virtual meeting this month to discuss the many coal-fired power plants in the area that have been shut down or are going to be shut down.

Representatives from several local, county and regional organizations attended the event to learn more about the possibilities for closed coal plants.

Reimagine Appalachia provided information about plants across the Appalachian region, including some local plants in Belmont and Jefferson counties.

Jesse Roush, executive director of Southeastern Ohio Port Authority, owned a former coal-fired power plant and is currently in the process of repurposing two former coal plants. He discussed what the process has been like so far.

Roush gave some background on the port authority and its community.

“We are the lead economic development agency for Washington County, Ohio. We are home to two former coal-fired power plants and neighbors to a third,” Roush said.

Roush said his organization is one of the 61 port authorities in the state.

“I like to claim that we punch above our weight. We have a pretty lean operating budget, two-person staff, but we have been fairly successful thanks to some great private sector partners and some great public sector partners. That’s really what put us in a place to be able to go after these two sites,” he said.

Roush said that he tries to keep the public informed about decisions regarding the coal plants.

“We probably are one of the more transparent site owners you’re going to find because we’re quasi-governmental, and so we’re subject to sunshine laws. We’re willing to talk about this, which is what’s helped us really sort of capture this statewide leader in brownfield development,” he said.

Roush discussed the many financing options available for repurposing coal plants.

“We’re uniquely positioned to take advantage of public and private investment, and it’s been a unique experience figuring this out. … We’re a heavy industrial county, so we have an opportunity to participate in a lot of brownfield projects, both state and federally funded,” he said.

Roush said that Washington County lost nearly 600 jobs when the Muskingum River power facility closed. The plant is located in Beverly and was previously owned by AEP. The site shut down in 2015.

“Six hundred jobs is very real. Not all those were lost, though. We had growth in other industries that absorb some of those jobs, but they still feel the consequences in some of our communities, particularly in those rural school districts that don’t have that tax base,” he explained.

Roush said the second facility to close was the American Municipal Power Gorsuch site in Marietta. He said that this site is on the Ohio River, making it a great location for an industrial site. Roush said that the port authority has worked closely with American Municipal Power-Ohio on the redevelopment of the site.

“Our goal is to restore as many of the lost jobs as possible and to increase the local tax base by revitalizing not one, but two of our county’s most important industrial sites. We are targeting the types of sectors and businesses that require access to rail and river. We aim to replace 150-200 of the nearly 600 jobs we lost during peak operation,” Roush said.

“Our job is to facilitate job creation, so we want to be part of job creation, job retention and restore the tax base,” he said.

Roush said he started the project by working with the county commissioners. He then started discussing project ideas with the chamber of commerce, local school boards and townships. He also made sure that residents near the site were informed about the project.

“We really only have one residential neighbor that could be impacted by the project, depending on what it is. I keep them informed of what we’re doing. I’m sure you could go door-to-door and find somebody that would like us to turn it into a hay field, but the 99% of our community wants to see something done that has jobs. We want jobs in our community. We need more jobs. We need things for our kids to get excited about and stay here,” he said.

Roush said that transparency has been one of his main values during the project, and he has received positive feedback due to the open communication.

“I think because we’re a small community and we know everyone, we do it really well because you can’t get away with anything,” he said.

Roush said that he hopes his experiences help other counties and communities make informed decisions when repurposing their former coal plants.

Sam Mardell, manager of carbon-free electricity at Rocky Mountain Institute, said that looking for climate-friendly and sustainable development opportunities and keeping the public and stakeholders informed on the process are important concepts to keep in mind when looking at the possibilities for a closed coal plant.

For more information, visit reimagineappalachia.org.


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