Roadmaps to New Power: Appalachian Transition Initiative Leads Coalfields into New Year–and New Era

"Roadmaps to New Power" is a series of interviews with activists, residents, entrepreneurs and industry analysts about current plans and visions for a just transition to clean energy and sustainable economic development in coalfield communities around the nation.

If not mountaintop removal or coal mining in central Appalachia, then what?
What can we do with displaced strip miners? How can we jump-start other New Power economies?

On the heels of a lead story in the Washington Post last weekend on the financial world's burnout over the coal industry, Kristin Tracz, a Research & Policy Associate at the Mountain Association for Community Economic Development (MACED) in Kentucky, outlines the breakthrough efforts of the "Appalachian Transition Initiative" in a special Huffington Post interview on their work to deal with central Appalachia's economic future in the face of a declining coal economy.

As an extraordinary effort between the Mountain Association for Community Economic Development (MACED) and the Kentuckians for the Commonwealth (KFTC), Tracz says the Appalachian Transition group works to promote an "active, participatory and action-oriented conversation" about economic transition in Central Appalachia.

This type of conversation is hardly limited to the coalfields of Appalachia. One of the most dynamic clean energy advocates in the nation, Tracz draws parallels with other extraction-dependent economies and shows how similar clean energy initiatives are emerging across the nation.

JB: Can you describe the "Appalachian Transition Initiative" and your agenda for 2011?
KT: Our hope for 2011 is to give space to the important conversations that will move this long-term transition effort forward. We are in the process of revamping the website so that many more voices can share their stories in the form of blog posts, comments, and interactive discussions. While MACED and KFTC are in a sense hosting the initiative, it is by no means an effort exclusive to our organizations and we're really interested in connecting folks working towards a vibrant, diverse Appalachian economy with others who have similar goals and efforts. We want to give space to people interested in learning about the issues outside the region with transition-oriented people living in Appalachian communities, helping to share information and resources in both directions.

Many organizations across the region are creating meaningful examples of local foods efforts, supporting small scale entrepreneurs, engaging in water shed clean up, promoting sustainable forestry management and other efforts. We want to share these and other stories. This kind of storytelling and information sharing that can help inform big picture decisions and policy changes that will be necessary to launch long-term investments in transition.
In our own work, MACED is focusing on opportunities in the region in the areas of energy, forestry and entrepreneurship. The Stewards of Appalachia project works with private forest landowners throughout the region to access new revenue options, while also promoting the sustainable management of forestland. The Energy Efficient Enterprises program provides technical assistance to small businesses and nonprofits throughout Appalachian Kentucky. Each of these efforts is supported by MACED's Enterprise Development program, which provides loan products to viable businesses that may have trouble finding bank financing but are contributing to the employment and economic opportunities in the region.
KFTC is also pursuing a number of transition-related efforts. In December, KFTC and several ally organizations were successful in persuading a rural electric co-op to abandon its plans to build a coal-burning power plant and create a collaborative process to examine and recommend affordable clean energy solutions, including energy efficiency, wind, solar and hydro power. Astudy produced in 2009 by the Ochs Center demonstrated that a portfolio of these solutions could generate or save an equivalent amount of power to the power plant, at a lower overall cost, while creating more than 9,000 jobs in eastern and central Kentucky communities.
Meanwhile, MACED has worked with a handful of rural co-ops in the region to design an innovative way to help rural residents and small businesses finance renewable energy installations and energy efficiency upgrades. Taken together, these efforts to nudge and support rural co-ops towards new power solutions can be an important driver of regional economic transition and job creation.
These are long-term strategies that will, we hope, contribute to sustainable development in Appalachia. But first, we all have to work together to get the issues out there and heard–inside the coalfields, and out.
Kristin Tracz

About Kristin Tracz

Kristin Tracz served MACED’s Research and Policy team from 2009-2012 working on clean energy policy, energy efficiency programs and the Appalachian Transition Initiative. She joined MACED after finishing her Master of Environmental Management degree at the Yale School of Forestry & Environmental Studies. She now lives and works in Washington, DC.