Once a tragic example of environmental catastrophe, the former mining town of Centralia, Pennsylvania has risen from the ashes to become a leader in renewable energy. After an underground mine fire began burning uncontrollably in 1962, the town was eventually abandoned as dangerous gasses and sinkholes rendered it uninhabitable.

However, recent efforts to cap parts of the fire and install geothermal plants above the still-smoldering coal veins have allowed Centralia to be partially resettled. With these innovative clean energy systems providing heat, power, and employment, Centralia is being transformed into a model community powered sustainably from below.

The Rise, Fall, and Rebirth of Centralia

Centralia, Washington has undergone a remarkable transformation in recent decades. Once dependent on coal mining and coal-fired power, the town has reinvented itself as a leader in clean energy and sustainability.

Source: Wikimedia Commons

Centralia’s coal economy began declining in 2006 when its largest employer, a strip mine, closed down, leaving 600 residents without work. Then, in 2011, the state announced Centralia’s coal-fired power plant would cease operations by 2025, eliminating another 300 jobs. However, with assistance from the plant’s owner, TransAlta Corporation, Centralia was able to turn hardship into opportunity.

The $55 Million Economic Transition Plan

TransAlta agreed to fund a 10-year, $55 million economic transition plan to promote growth in new industries. Grants were awarded beginning in 2016 to fund weatherization, renewable energy, and economic development programs. By 2019, these initiatives had created over 2,800 new jobs, more than replacing the 900 jobs lost from the coal industry’s demise.

Source: Unsplash/Karsten Wurth

Centralia has become a model for how communities dependent on fossil fuels can transition to clean energy and green jobs. Its success has drawn interest from companies in fields like green hydrogen and solar energy. The reclaimed coal mine is being converted into an ecotourism site for camping and hiking.

Increased Wages are A Big Plus

Wages in Centralia have risen 50% faster than the national average. Residents have also saved money from lower utility bills thanks to energy efficiency upgrades. The town’s unemployment rate, once far higher than the national average, has dropped to nearly match it.


Some experts view Centralia as a model for coal towns in Appalachia and elsewhere seeking to diversify their economies. As coal mines and power plants close across the U.S., communities would do well to follow Centralia’s lead in embracing renewable energy and sustainability. With planning and investment, the end of coal can mark the beginning of new opportunities.

The Inspiring Vision to Transform Centralia Into a Renewable Energy Hub

According to the Ohio River Valley Institute, Centralia’s unemployment rate was over 2.5 percentage points higher than the national average for 25 years. However, after investing in energy efficiency programs, Centralia saw a 12% increase in employment, doubling the national average.

Source: Unsplash/Nuno Marques

Centralia provides a model for how coal towns can transform into renewable energy hubs. Investing in green technology and energy efficiency allowed Centralia to renew its economy and environment. Other coal-dependent towns, especially in Appalachia, can follow Centralia’s lead as the world moves away from fossil fuels.

Repurposing the Land: Solar, Wind, and Geothermal Power

The city’s largest employer, a strip mine, closed in 2006, leaving 600 residents without work. In 2011, the state announced the local power plant, employing 300 people, would stop burning coal by 2025. To aid the transition, the power plant’s owner, TransAlta Corporation, provided funding for a 10-year economic transition plan.

Source: Wikipedia

Centralia now has an opportunity to become an ecotourism destination. The abandoned mine is undergoing reclamation, including tree planting and rewilding the land. The area has the potential for recreational activities like camping and hiking.

Training the Next Generation of Clean Energy Workers

Centralia has invested heavily in retraining workers for jobs in the clean energy sector. With funding from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009, the city launched the Green Jobs Centralia program.

Source: Confidencial

The program provided grants to retrain workers in energy efficiency and renewable energy. Many former coal workers found new jobs installing solar panels, retrofitting buildings, and working in green transportation.

There is Hope Beyond Coal

The program’s success demonstrates the potential for retraining coal workers for jobs in renewable energy and efficiency. As the nation transitions to clean energy, coal communities can follow Centralia’s model. They can tap into federal funds and work with local colleges to retrain workers for in-demand green jobs.

Source: Flickr/George Bernstein

With investment in workers and infrastructure, coal communities can attract new green industries and reinvent their economies. The transition to clean energy does not have to come at the cost of jobs. With vision and support, coal towns can emerge as leaders in building a sustainable future.

Partnership With Local Universities

Centralia partnered with nearby community colleges to develop training programs tailored to the needs of local employers. The colleges offered classes in fields like solar installation, energy-efficient construction, and electric vehicle maintenance. Over 200 workers completed training through the program. Surveys found that most graduates found employment in their field of study, with average wages over $20 per hour.

Source: Unsplash/Vasily Koloda

The program also funded energy efficiency upgrades for homes and businesses across Centralia. This created jobs for contractors and construction workers while reducing energy costs for the community. Altogether, the Green Jobs Centralia program invested over $20 million in the city, supporting over 600 jobs.

Centralia Leads the Way in Green Innovation

Centralia’s successful transition has attracted green energy companies. Australia’s Fortescue Future Industries, a producer of green hydrogen, has expressed interest in the town. The closed mine site is being reclaimed for recreational use like camping and hiking. Half of the area has already been replanted with trees.

Source: Wikimedia Commons

Centralia provides a model for other coal-dependent towns, especially in Appalachia, that must transition to clean energy. With investment in sustainability, these communities can thrive economically while protecting the environment. By promoting renewable energy, eco-tourism, and energy efficiency, former coal towns can transform into hubs of green innovation.

Embracing Change

The city’s successful shift to renewable energy and a sustainable economy serves as a model for other communities facing the decline of fossil fuel industries. With strategic investments in innovation and job creation, a community can rebound in a environmentally-friendly way.

Source: Unsplash/Thomas Richter

With vision, planning, and investment in green technology and infrastructure, ghost towns of the past can transform into vibrant communities of the future. By diversifying their economies and workforces to capitalize on the growing renewable energy sector, former coal towns have the potential for renewal and prosperity in a carbon-neutral world.