Eric Tegethoff for Public News Service Montana:
Although the fate of the Environmental Protection Agency’s Clean Power Plan is up in the air now that Donald Trump has been elected president, at least part of Colstrip’s coal-fired power plant is still likely to close by 2022.
Peter DeJesus, field coordinator for Western New York Area Labor Federation, saw a similar transition in his western New York town of Tonawanda when the NRG Energy-owned Huntley coal plant shut down.
DeJesus says the conversation on how the town would transition and diversify its economy started with community members, including labor unions and environmentalists.
“They came in with the understanding of, ‘We’re not calling for the closure of this plant,’” DeJesus relates. “’We want to prepare ourselves and be proactive should this plant actually close or be decommissioned, whatever it may be. And we’re willing to do whatever we can to support the workers. We just want to make sure we’re prepared.’
“So, I think that helped to guide the conversation with the workforce that was in the NRG facility.”
DeJesus says the city had to deal with a $6 million budget hit when the plant shut down. The majority of the coal plant workers transferred to other plants.
He adds closing the NRG facility opened up access to a large portion of the town’s waterfront for redevelopment.
DeJesus says Tonawanda is not unique. Coal plants across the country are closing, and he’s convinced this western New York town could be a model for revitalizing towns when plants leave.
“If you don’t have the right people at the table – people who are actually willing to talk to each other and really understand each other, and willing to have respect for each organization’s individual identity – it can’t work,” DeJesus stresses. “So, I think it’s something that absolutely can be replicated if you have the right people in the room.”
DeJesus will be part of a panel about the future of coal at the 45th Annual Meeting of the Northern Plains Resource Council in Billings on Saturday. It’s open to the public and more information is online at northernplains.org.
NY Plant Offered as Model for Transition after Coal Plants Shut Down