Can Pennsylvania’s Coal Communities Survive the Shift to Renewable Energy?

carbon captureImage by Szabolcs Molnar

PENNSYLVANIA — Governor Tom Wolf this week announced more than $6.9 million being devoted to Pennsylvania’s coal communities to support economic development projects.

These nine projects will create jobs, diversify local economies, and improve quality of life for Pennsylvanians in coal communities. The ARC’s POWER Initiative seeks to diversify economies in communities and regions affected by job losses due to the changing economics of energy production. With the shift to renewable energy sources, many worry that coal communities will not be able to survive. This investment by Governor Wolf is a critical step in ensuring that these communities can thrive even as the energy landscape changes.

Pennsylvania has a long history of coal mining and coal-powered energy production. However, the state has also been a leader in the shift to renewable energy sources. In 2016, Pennsylvania ranked seventh in the nation for installed solar capacity, and the state has set a goal of getting 80% of its electricity from renewable sources by 2050. These investments by the state will help to ensure that these communities can take advantage of this opportunity and thrive in the new energy economy.

The $6.9 million in ARC POWER Initiative grants announced for Pennsylvania today include:

ASSET Inc.
Project: Partnerships to Advance Learning in STEM (PALS) Strategic Expansion Plan
Award Amount: $48,661 

This project will help four regional teams develop action plans to implement the PALS tutoring program, which engages pre-service educators to provide no-cost virtual tutoring to underserved K–8 learners in their communities. Across Pennsylvania, rural students in coal counties are often in underfunded and poor-performing schools that demonstrate significant achievement gaps and challenges with teacher recruitment and retention. PALS tutoring addresses these challenges by focusing on learning acceleration to help K-8 students.

Bedford County Development Association
Project: Bedford County Site Feasibility Study
Award Amount: $50,000 

The study will evaluate three sites in Bedford County to determine the best location for a new business park. The goal of this study is to cultivate an environment where new and existing manufacturers create well-paying jobs through increased private investment and capitalization on the resurgence of manufacturing.

Erie Area Council of Governments
Project: Erie County Broadband Expansion Feasibility Study
Award Amount: $50,000 

The project will analyze existing broadband infrastructure and coverage gaps and recommend implementation strategies for expanding and improving local internet access throughout Erie County. The applicant will contract with an expert consultant to perform the study and with the Erie County Department of Planning and Community Development to provide economic impact data and GIS services. The project will serve 16 communities over the course of a year.

Fayette County
Project: Health Sciences Workforce Development Center
Award Amount: $1,500,000 

This project will construct a 6,000-square-foot training center on the campus of Fayette County Career & Technical Institute (Fayette CTI), allowing Fayette CTI to enhance its Licensed Practical Nurse (LPN) program and meet the growing healthcare workforce needs in Western Pennsylvania and Northern West Virginia. Over the course of eighteen months, following the completion of the new facility, the project will serve 170 students with 136 anticipated to graduate.

Penn State University
Project: Realizing Automated and Advanced Manufacturing Processes (RAAMP)
Award Amount: $750,087 

Through partnerships with the Ben Franklin Technology Partners and regional business owners, this project will help regional manufacturers modernize their production capabilities and address the shortage of skilled labor by training and upskilling an existing workforce disenfranchised by the eroding coal economy and empower Appalachians to obtain high-paying, tech-centric jobs. These efforts will improve 60 businesses, 180 workers/trainees, and 45 students through workshop training; create 10 jobs; and retain 30 jobs through modernization of business processes and professional development over the course of the 3-year grant period.

Southwestern Pennsylvania Corporation
Project: Tri-State Net Zero Manufacturing Initiative
Award Amount: $1,375,961 

To help address both the global climate crisis and the region’s economic reliance on coal, the project will help small and medium manufacturers participate in the growing supply chain for net-zero energy and decarbonization sectors. In partnership with Manufacturing Extension Partnership (MEP) centers at Catalyst Connection, West Virginia University, and Ohio MAGNET, the project will engage and connect manufacturers with strategies and opportunities; incentivize the deployment of net zero supply chain and clean factory strategies by providing “Net Zero Manufacturing Mini-Grants”; and identify pathways to scale up net zero manufacturing, among other activities. The project will serve 47 counties, produce two plans/reports, implement three programs, serve 300 businesses, create 120 jobs and 25 new businesses, and leverage $360,000 in additional private investment.

Saint Francis University
Project: Aviation Workforce Training Center
Award Amount: $1,000,000 

Through collaboration with industry partners—including the Johnston-Cambria County Airport Authority, Cambria County, Nulton Aviation Services, and Sky West Airlines—to ensure compliance with FAA regulations and intersection with industry needs, the project will establish an Aviation Maintenance Technician (AMT) school at the John Murtha Johnston–Cambria County Airport. The school will provide the coal-impacted workforce with aviation maintenance training and certifications, helping individuals create pathways into secure, well-paying, family-sustaining jobs in the growing aviation industry and related sectors.

The Learning Lamp
Project: Child Care Works for the Southern Alleghenies
Award Amount: $756,690 

The project will increase child care supply and put more people back to work in a rural, coal-impacted region of west central Pennsylvania where there is not enough quality and affordable child care to meet local workforce demands. In addition to increasing child care supply, the project will bolster the early learning workforce through educational opportunities and encourage individuals to build their own home-based child care businesses. The project’s four-pronged approach includes recruiting early childhood workers and directing them into education and career pathways through pre-apprenticeships and apprenticeships to increase skills and wages; piloting the micro-center child care model as a solution for the child care shortage in rural communities; launching a Staffed Family Child Care Network campaign to increase the number of home-based child care providers in the region; and completing a child care expansion and quality improvement project currently underway in heavily coal-impacted Somerset County.

Venango County
Project: Erie to Pittsburgh Trails/PA Wilds Loop Construction—Phase II
Award Amount: $1,385,920 

For Phase II construction of the Erie to Pittsburgh Trail/PA Wilds Loop Trail, closing gaps in connectivity along both trails. Both trails are part of the Industrial Heartland Trails Coalition, an initiative to connect the area’s population centers via destination trails that will attract users locally and nationally. After two years, 15,840 linear feet of new trail will be built, attracting an expected 6,300 new day visitors and 2,100 new overnight visitors.

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