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From Coal to Solar



I’ve long been mystified at the hostility of dirty energy companies transitioning to clean energy because it would seem that the rational move would be for an energy company to figure out how to profit from new forms of what they already produce. But of course I also know that people are motivated by greed and hate and so not only is wind and solar energy a threat to coal and oil, but that’s hippie energy and screw those people. Nonetheless, it seems only a matter of time before the transition to clean energy becomes overwhelming, if for no other reason than market forces. So as horrible and criminal as mountaintop removal is, at least you see one Kentucky coal company turning these mountaintops into big solar production sites.

Berkeley Energy Group this month announced plans to put coal miners back to work by building the largest solar project in Appalachia on top of a closed mountaintop strip mine near the town of Pikeville. The Eastern Kentucky coal company is partnering with the Environmental Defense Fund, which has helped develop 9,000 megawatts of renewable energy, to bring jobs and clean energy to the region.

Mining employment in the area has plummeted from more than 14,000 jobs in 2008 to fewer than 4,000 today, owing to mine automation, competition from natural gas, and environmental controls on dirty coal emissions.

Even if Trump’s administration and Congress roll back clean air and water rules, most experts agree that coal-mining jobs are not coming back, particularly in Appalachia where production costs are relatively high.

But there is vast potential for the region to reclaim its ravaged landscapes for use in generating solar energy, if federal policy continues to offer incentives. Solar resources in Kentucky, for instance, are favorable enough to power nearly 1,000 homes for every two acres of solar panels.

Of course, we aren’t talking about thousands of jobs here. And I would like very much to see the United Mine Workers of America work to organize these energy jobs as well (one could argue IBEW should have the rights here, but really, I don’t care much about boundary setting). But this is a logical start for any corporation with land that could be making money by producing clean energy.

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