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Coal Country Warms-up to Solar Power

President Trump may be stuck in a past era of thriving coal mines, but at least one forward-thinking coal company sees lucrative opportunities in using reclaimed mountaintop strip mines as sites for solar farms.
April 23, 2017, 9am PDT | Irvin Dawid
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A plan has been proposed by an Eastern Kentucky coal mining company and a renewable energy group to build a solar farm on the site of a reclaimed mountaintop strip mine (such as this image)reports James Bruggers for the Courier-Journal. In addition to selling the solar power to utilities that are required to meet minimum thresholds of generation from renewable sources, the partnership presents an opportunity to employ displaced coal miners.

The Berkeley Energy Group [unable to locate link] and EDF Renewable Energy, a subsidiary of Paris-based EDF Energies Nouvelles] are exploring what they're billing as the first large-scale solar project in Appalachia. They're focused on two mountaintop-removal mining sites outside Pikeville [county seat of Pike County, Kentucky], where engineering and feasibility studies are underway for a 50- to 100-megawatt project.

"I grew up with coal," said Ryan Johns, an executive with Berkeley, an Eastern Kentucky coal company. "Our company has been in the coal business for 30 years. We are not looking at this as trying to replace coal, but we have already extracted the coal from this area." 

In addition to the two energy companies, Edelen Strategic Ventures, a Kentucky-based management consultancy started by former Kentucky Auditor Adam Edelen, is behind the idea of providing a second energy-extraction life for the mountaintop strip mines.

Edelen said that he and John's of Berkeley Energy have "had no trouble generating interest in the project because of its powerful narrative of employing displaced coal miners on mined-over land and creating a partnership between a coal company and another that's focused on renewable energy."

Bruggers, whose specialty is environment, environmental health, energy and science, details the drop in coal extraction and mining employment since 2008 do largely to competition from cheaper natural gas. However, that cleaner-burning fossil fuel is now facing competition due to states that adopted renewable portfolio standards that require utilities to produce a minimum amount of electrical generation from renewable sources

"The project would connect to the electricity grid through a regional transmission organization called PJM, which includes several states — Ohio, Pennsylvania and New Jersey — that require utilities to offer a certain amount of electricity from renewable sources, including solar and wind," reports  Bill Estep for the Lexington Herald-Leader.

The partners have started the process of accessing the PJM grid, but the project isn’t set in stone.

Putting solar panels on a reclaimed mine is a different engineering challenge. Some mined sites have needed significant work to compact the soil before construction.

 Estep adds that studies will continue through the year to determine the economic and engineering feasibility of the project.

Hat tip to Loren Spiekerman.

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Published on Tuesday, April 18, 2017 in Courier-Journal
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