An Ohio-based think tank says Centralia could be a national model for rural communities with “anemic” economies suffering after the closure of coal mines and power plants.
This week’s report by Ohio River Valley Institute cites Centralia’s GDP, population and wage growth from 2015 to 2019, despite the gradual shutdown of the TransAlta power plant.
While the evidence isn’t conclusive, the report suggests TransAlta’s “Centralia Coal Transition Grants” may be the key to help small communities thrive after the closure of a major economic anchor. Those grants have benefitted local solar projects, the county’s 911 system and energy efficiency projects by the Public Utilities District, and were “organic,” rather than reliant on outside businesses moving in.
The institute’s report chronicles Centralia’s economic hits before the grant program was created — higher-than-average unemployment in 2005, the 2006 closure of TransAlta’s coal mine, the Great Recession, followed by the announcement that the power company would stop burning coal by 2025.
“The scale of the economic turnaround in Centralia is probably too great to be solely attributable to the grant program. However, the pattern of Centralia’s economic boom strongly suggests that the grants played a significant role,” the report reads.
The grant program has been “unusually effective,” according to the institute, by focusing on labor-intensive projects, leveraging existing businesses and resulting in safer, more comfortable homes and workplaces.
Specifically, the report highlights how Centralia’s model could be transposed to Appalachian communities historically reliant on coal.