Would you dine out in a repurposed coal plant? Or play basketball in a community center that once emitted massive amounts of carbon into the atmosphere? Or meet classmates on campus at the new union building that spewed out black smoke for years?
Many of the folks who answer ‘yes’ to the above have been to these repurposed coal plants that are not only economically feasible and welcoming locals, but exceptional examples of how new life can be restored into an old, shuttered coal plant. The decline of coal-produced energy is nothing new. Producing green energy is key to slowing climate change and reducing the billions of tons of carbon released into the environment each year. With tougher emission regulations coal plants all over the world have been and are closing down. Some of these structures are known, historical sites whose old architectural styles have been revived and embellished. A recent news story in the Guardian entitled “Life After Death For The Coal Industry” by Felicity Bradstock, shows how former coal plants and their infrastructure are prime locations for new businesses, including greener energy industries that can revive a local community with new jobs for former workers in the coal industry to make their living.
New life was pumped into a former coal plant site now known as the Mount Tom Solar Farm in Massachusetts. The big advantage is the plant was still connected to the grid and now it is a 5.8-megawatt photovoltaic facility with battery storage, solidly supporting the state’s renewable energy goals.
Then there’s the old Blackhawk Generating Station in Beloit, Wisconsin, a decommissioned coal-fired power plant that was converted into a student union, recreation center, restaurant and athletics facility at Beloit College.The building is hard to miss with its iconic 227-foot chimney stretching towards the sky.
Beliot College Powerhouse
The growing trend of repurposing closed plants is catching on in the United States, especially turning the old structures into revenue producing businesses. But in places like South Africa where coal produces 87 percent of its electricity, employs 120,000 workers and is the world’s 15th biggest emitter of CO2, the challenge is greater. To that end, in 2021, South Africa was the recipient of $8.5 billion from Britain, France, Germany, the United States, and the European Union, monies to target the repurposing of its many coal plants. Here, the wealthier nations have stepped up to help a developing country — another positive move in slowing carbon emissions. Reinvigorating regions once heavily reliant on coal jobs and revenue for decades is now shining a light on efforts to include former coal workers and communities rather than cut them adrift. Hopefully the trend continues to help gain control and lessen the heating of the planet.