Challenge 2017: What’s next for forgotten coal towns like Alberta’s Forestburg as plug pulled on industry – by Claudia Cattaneo (Financial Post – December 24, 2016)

For a village of 831 on the gentle plains of East Central Alberta, Forestburg is shouldering a disproportionate cost of Alberta’s — and Canada’s — greenhouse gas reduction ambitions.

Coal has been Forestburg’s lifeblood for a century and been central to the village’s two major economic transitions. The first brought unprecedented prosperity when the coal industry arrived in the mid-1950s. The second, unfolding today, could take it all away as governments phase coal power out by 2030 to transition to greener energy.

The powers in Edmonton and Ottawa may think 13 years is a long time to build new industry, but in Forestburg, located 300 kilometres northeast of Calgary, the blows have already started, and they’ve been harsh.

Layoffs at the nearby Battle River coal-fired generating station and open coal pit mine started soon after Alberta’s NDP government was elected 18 months ago and continued as the province’s climate change plan was announced a year ago. Local business activity has dried up, real estate values have plunged and confidence in the town’s sustainability has deteriorated.

“It’s such a new experience for all of us, we don’t know where to turn,” Forestburg’s volunteer mayor, Peter Miller, said in an interview this week in the village’s town hall, surrounded by business people and retirees worried about the future and about being forgotten.

It seems coal has been cast as such a climate-change and health villain that few thoughts have been spared for those whose livelihoods depend on it. And there are many.

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