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A decade ago, two-thirds of the electricity produced in Colorado came from coal. But natural gas, wind, and solar power have expanded quickly. And the state is planning for all but one of its coal plants to close within a decade.

“Coal, which was once king, is no longer king. It’s going away,” says former Colorado Gov. Bill Ritter.

Ritter now directs the Center for the New Energy Economy at Colorado State University. He says the transition away from coal creates uncertainty for communities that have long depended on mines and coal-fired power plants.

“They’re a big part of the tax base,” he says. “They’re a big part of the employment base. And there have been generations of people who’ve worked either in the coal mines or in coal-fired generation.”

His organization works to help these communities plan for the future.

He says some may pivot to producing renewable energy or focus on new industries such as tourism.

He says no one solution will fit every community. And local workers, business leaders, and policy makers will need to work together to plan for the future.

“Our work is to try and help them understand that the transformation is happening,” Ritter says, “and then ask the question, ‘What do you want to be? … Let’s chart a new vision.’”

Reporting credit: Sarah Kennedy/ChavoBart Digital Media