Centralia, Washington, long relied on jobs from a coal mine and a coal-fired power plant.

But the mine closed in 2006, and the power plant is set to be retired in three years. So Centralia’s been planning for a future without coal.

As part of negotiations about the shutdown, the company that owns the power plant agreed to invest $55 million to help Centralia diversify its economy.

Much of that money is going toward energy-efficiency projects.

“You’re talking about things like heating, ventilating, and air conditioning, and door and window replacement and insulation,” says Sean O’Leary of the Ohio River Valley Institute. “Those are the kinds of things done by local companies, local contractors, and they in turn hire local employees.”

O’Leary has been studying Centralia’s approach.

He says investing in the energy-efficiency industry is beneficial because the work is labor-intensive, so much of the money is spent on worker’s wages.

And it also helps residents save on utility bills, so they have more disposable income to spend in the community.

“And so you simply have a richer environment for companies to do business,” O’Leary says.

So he says there are many benefits to investing in energy efficiency as part of preparing for a post-coal future.

Reporting credit: Sarah Kennedy/ChavoBart Digital Media