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The Future of Energy and Sustainability Challenge

West Virginia has been tied to the fossil energy industry since the early 20th Century. This, along with the chemical industry, have been the state’s principal economic drivers. The decline of the fossil energy industry began in the middle 20th Century and rapidly accelerated as the 20th Century ended. The result was that many smaller rural communities, and particularly “company towns,” lost their economic base and population — leaving behind the environmental legacy of the industry along with impoverished communities with aging populations and decaying infrastructure.

Entering the 21st Century, the promise offered by shale gas afforded some relief in a few, but not most of these areas. But that is likely to be short-lived, as it is anticipated that global response to climate change will erode what is left of the fossil energy industry by the middle of the 21st Century as clean energy becomes dominant. West Virginia will need to adapt to the change by developing new sources for energy, and diversifying its economy, while rebuilding its critical infrastructure. This offers an advantage and significant opportunity to rebuilding in a sustainable manner that will provide greater community resilience.

Key Questions

  • What are the opportunities for West Virginia as the US (and global) sources of energy shift?
  • What are the barriers that West Virginia must be overcome for the state to be a leader in the new energy economy?
  • How might these changes affect the WV economy and workforce?
  • How might we maximize benefits to WV communities and minimize any risks?
  • How do we protect and sustain our natural resources (such as water) that are also a basis for a future economy and contribute to an enhanced quality of life?
  • How do we best prepare the state’s current and future workforce to work in the new energy economy?
  • What big ideas can ensure energy and economic security for West Virginia and the US?
  • How do we engage with state, industry, and community partners to achieve economic security and environmental sustainability?
  • What kind of curriculum can we develop that will attract Gen Z students who are interested in and engaged in these issues?