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Repurposed: Solar energy project shows great promise

An experiment is in the works in southwest Virginia and Tennessee, that might have far-reaching benefits for the rest of coal country. A Nature Conservancy preserve that spans parts of Virginia, Kentucky and Tennessee includes approximately 550 acres of deforested mineland, for which developers are working on a large-scale solar project. According to Energy News Network, the project is expected to be generating up to 75 megawatts of solar energy within the next two to three years.

To put that in perspective, the Pleasants Power Station near Belmont, W.Va., has a capacity of 1,300 MW; the Mitchell Power Plant near Moundsville is 1,633 MW. Still, 75 MW is well above the level needed to be labeled a utility-scale project, and the work on the Cumberland Forest property could become a model for repurposing mine lands, creating renewable energy jobs and finding out just how much solar facilities can be scaled up to meet energy needs.

“We can do things that are good for nature and people,” Brad Kreps, director of the conservancy’s Clinch Valley Program in Abingdon, Va., told Energy News Network. “A mission of conservation and economic recovery can be compatible. These two things don’t have to be mutually exclusive.”

Developers are still working on the project, but should it come to fruition, the results should help inform energy and development policy in a region working so desperately to diversify its economy, do right by the planet AND preserve quality of life for families who have depended on coal for generations.

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