Ryan Johns, an executive of Berkeley Energy Group (BEG), a leading Eastern Kentucky coal company, and Adam Edelen of Edelen Strategic Services have a dream of building the first-ever large scale solar project in the heart of coal country.
If their dream comes true, a large operation that depends on the sun as its major source of energy will be built in the community where tons of coals once provided hundreds of good-paying jobs and most of the energy that has long provided this region with its electricity and powered most of its manufacturing plants and commercial buildings.
As further evidence of the shift away from coal to much cleaner and ever-present solar power, the large operation will be built on two pieces of property that were flattened by mountaintop removal coal mining, a process that flattened beautiful mountains and buried hundreds of miles of fresh-water streams under tons of rock removed from the tops of mountains.
BEG and EDF Renewable Energy are working together to explore the first major solar project in Appalachia. Site selection and engineering studies have begun in earnest, with focus on twin mountaintop removal sites just outside Pikeville.
The engineering studies are vital to enhancing the viability of the 50-100 megawatt project and are expected to consume much of 2017. The project would involve hundreds of acres of reclaimed strip mines and generate employment for displaced coal miners in the construction phase of the development.
“My family roots run deep in Eastern Kentucky and its coal mines. I’m excited about the potential of this innovative project to help diversify our economy and create jobs for our people,” said Johns. “This is a long term process with much work to be done before a construction date can be set, but I believe an experienced renewable project developer like EDF RE is the perfect partner in making our vision a reality. If it can be done, we’ll get it done.”
Edelen said: “Bringing together major players in both coal and renewable energy to build a solar farm on a mountaintop removal site, creating opportunity for out-of-work miners is a once in a lifetime project. It’s proof positive that Kentuckians can do big things, and find help from others in doing so.”
EDF RE, with more than 30 years of experience in wind, solar, bioenergy and storage has successfully developed 9,000 megawatts of renewable energy.
“A project of this magnitude has never been proposed in Appalachia. Doing so will require every bit of innovation, experience and skill we’ve developed in the last 30 years,” said Doug Copeland, EDF RE Development Manager. “Everyone in our company, from our executive team to our site engineers, is committed to doing all we can to generate jobs and income to this region.”
It is still too early to get overly excited. The people of this region have heard promises of great economic development projects providing hundreds of jobs that were never fulfilled, and there is no guarantee that the solar project will become a reality.
However, there is ample reason to hope this project is much more than just an just an unrealistic pipe dream. The two companies behind it are long-established firms in the energy industry. They both have a record of creating jobs, BEG in the coal industry and EDF Renewable Energy in, well, renewable energy. They both have both the experience and the financial means to turn the vison into a reality.
As Johns said, a lot of questions still have to be answered before the vision of Johns and Edelen become a reality, and it may be more than a year any major decision is finalized, but our hope is that Johns is right when he says, “If it can be done, it will be done.”