Kentucky coal company announces plans to build the state’s largest solar farm

Kentucky coal company announces plans to build the state’s largest solar farm

A Kentucky coal company announced that it is planning to build a solar farm on a reclaimed mountaintop removal coal mine and that the project would bring both jobs and energy to the area.

Berkeley Energy Group, the coal company behind the project, billed it as the first large-scale solar farm in the Appalachian region, which has been hit hard by the decades-long decline in the U.S. coal industry. The company, in partnership with EDF Renewable Energy, is currently conducting feasibility studies for the project on two reclaimed strip mines, both located in the eastern part of the state. Berkeley Energy Group estimates that the solar farm could produce as much as 50 or 100 megawatts of electricity, which would be five to ten times the size of Kentucky’s largest solar farm.

Berkeley Energy Group’s project development executive told the Louisville Courier-Journal that the company did not intend to replace its coal production with the solar farm, but instead viewed the project as a chance to reclaim used land while creating job growth in the area.

“I grew up with coal,” said Ryan Johns, BEG project development executive. “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.”

Coal, which for decades has been the primary source of electricity production in the United States, has suffered from competition with cheaper sources of energy like natural gas, as well as solar and wind. Increased automation and stronger environmental regulations have also pushed the industry into decline. According to the Louisville Courier-Journal, coal extraction in Eastern Kentucky fell from 23 million tons in 2008 to about 5 million tons last year. Over the same period of time, mining employment dropped from 14,373 to 3,833.

As a candidate, President Trump seized on the high unemployment among coal miners in Appalachia, promising that he would bring coal mining back if elected president. In office, he has signed a handful of orders and laws that he argues will help bolster the declining industry — though energy experts, coal executives, and even Republican politicians contend that the market for coal looks bleak and that Trump’s orders will do little to change that.

At the same time, renewable energy employment has been increasing across the country. According to a Sierra Club analysis published earlier this year, clean energy employs more people that fossil fuel jobs by more than 2.5 to one — and renewable energy jobs exceed fossil fuel jobs in almost every state. In recent years, solar and wind jobs have grown at a rate 12 times faster than the rest of the U.S. economy.

Source: Think Progress

Date: May 2017

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