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Hundreds of U.S. coal-fired power plants have closed in the last decade, and that's a trend that continues despite President Trump's support for coal. Each plant closing leaves a big question - what to do with the site. NPR's Jeff Brady reports the state of Pennsylvania has a plan for that.
JEFF BRADY, BYLINE: In the small central Pennsylvania town of Shamokin Dam, four tall smokestacks rise from a huge brick building. This coal-fired power plant generated electricity for more than six decades; it shut down five years ago. Now crews are laying a concrete foundation for a completely different kind of plant.
JOE ZOKAITES: For a new medical marijuana cultivating facility.
BRADY: Joe Zokaites, with the redevelopment firm Arcova, admits this was an adjustment for the sedate power generation business.
ZOKAITES: There were a few chuckles in the conference calls in the mornings when we were first talking about it as an opportunity, but everyone's on board and supports it now.
BRADY: This is just part of the redevelopment plan for this site. We head over to the roof of an old office building next to the coal plant to see another element. It's a shiny, new natural gas power plant.
DENISE BRINLEY: We have new stacks, old stacks, and the juxtaposition of the two is pretty profound.
BRADY: Denise Brinley, with the Pennsylvania Governor's Office of Energy, says 14 coal power plants closed in the state in the last nine years; gas power plants replaced a lot of them. The concern is companies will just mothball the old coal plants.
BRINLEY: We don't want to see sites like this rust away, be eyesores on the community and offer no real tax revenue going forward, no employment opportunities.
BRADY: So the state is developing promotional playbooks for these sites. The playbooks acknowledge environmental concerns; often there's pollution from decades of burning coal. For this site, that means no houses can be built, and you can't use the groundwater. The plan also highlights assets, things like railroad tracks nearby or the tall power transmission lines Joe Zokaites points out as we head to the other end of the property.
ZOKAITES: This is a main north-south thoroughfare for power transmission.
BRADY: Those power lines could make it profitable to install solar panels where ash from the coal plant was dumped for many years. That area now has soil on top and looks like a meadow, but underneath, it's not stable enough to construct a heavy building without expensive modifications. Replacing coal plants with new renewable energy is a small trend around the country that sometimes comes with a celebration.
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BRADY: In April, in southern Massachusetts, a band played for a small crowd. They watched as explosives were used to implode two huge cooling towers at a former coal power plant. Member station WCAI recorded the moment they fell.
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BRADY: Now this coastal site will become a staging area for the growing offshore wind power industry. Environmental groups also cheer these transitions and say programs like Pennsylvania's are a good start for creating new jobs where old ones were lost. But they say the federal government should play a bigger role, too. That's unlikely for now, as President Trump tries to boost the coal business. Still, the number of coal plants closed since 2010 is approaching 300, and that means even more decisions about what to do with those sites next.
Jeff Brady, NPR News.
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