Berkeley Energy Group is a coal company located in eastern Kentucky, one of the areas of America hit hardest by declining coal production. 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. Now Berkeley Energy says it will build the largest solar farm in Appalachia. The solar panels will be erected on land reclaimed at the end of strip mining operations.
In partnership with EDF Renewable Energy, the company is currently conducting feasibility studies for the project on two reclaimed strip mines, both located in the eastern part of the state. It estimates the solar farm could produce up to 100 megawatts of electricity — ten times the size of Kentucky’s largest solar farm today.
It says it doesn’t intend to replace coal production with the solar farm. Instead it sees 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.”
Everywhere across America, jobs in the renewable energy sector are growing. According to a Sierra Club analysis published earlier this year, clean energy employs more people than 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.
Clean energy employs more people than fossil fuels in nearly every US state. Former Kentucky Auditor Adam Edelen, who is involved in the solar farm project, says interest in the project has been high, especially among unemployed coal workers.
Many Kentucky companies are looking to renewable energy as a way to reduce their carbon footprint and that is pushing the state to embrace forms of energy other than coal. Kentucky presently has no renewable energy target.
It is not the only red state to embrace large scale renewable energy. Texas, Iowa, and Oklahoma are the top three states in the country when it comes to installed wind capacity. North Carolina, Arizona, and Nevada are the second, third, and fourth in the nation when it comes to installed solar capacity.
When a coal company elects to build a solar farm instead of digging more coal, the renewable energy transformation is well and truly under way and gathering speed.