(TNS) — On a former coal mine in Martin County, Ky., Adam Edelen wants to put displaced miners back to work on a solar farm.
This month, Edelen got the support from Martin County Fiscal Court for the project that would provide 300 jobs and a $300,000 capital investment annually for 30 years to the county.
Edelen, the founder of Edelen Renewables and former Democratic state auditor, sees Appalachia as the energy capital for the green economy at the top of a mountain that was once the Martiki Coal Mine. The site is reclaimed, mostly flat and cleared, besides the several dozen cattle that roam around.
"This is a community that has been decimated by the disappearance of the coal industry," Edelen said. "We intend to embrace a radical notion that the people who literally powered the industrial development of this country for 100 years. Our coal miners deserve a place in the 21st century green economy." For the first coal-to-solar project in the country, Edelen and Erich Miarrka, a senior development manager at Savion and developing partner, admits this project is a moonshot because of the construction challenges.
Though the site was reclaimed decades ago, the top soil is lacking, which prevents beams drilled into the earth. They will have to largely rely on fixed tilt panels, an older technology that doesn't follow the sun throughout the day, decreasing production by 30 percent. Transporting the shipping containers of panels through winding mountain roads will also be difficult.
The former coal mine site has transmission infrastructure that mitigates some of the construction cost.
"I know Appalachia feels remote," Edelen said. "I know it feels literally off the beaten path, but it has extraordinary transmission infrastructure and that makes it really attractive for solar development."
The substation will allow for a 200 megawatt project, which could power 33,100 Kentucky homes. getting power from the sun through up to 700,000 solar modules. For every megawatt, Edelen Renewables will pay a minimum of $1,500 to Martin County.
Edelen says community impact is important. The hiring will be local. He is partnering with the region's community and technical colleges to identify, recruit and credential employees, especially former coal miners.
Martin County Judge-executive Bill Davis said he is ready to get started with the project.
"The people of Martin County are thankful for this opportunity and grateful because we have been job-wise hit hard for the last several years and the economy has been a lot less than what we would like it to be," Davis said.
The 300 promised jobs won't be permanent, since the day-to-day production of solar energy is limited to security and monitoring the panels — about a half dozen jobs.
Edelen's hope is credential workers will go to work on other solar projects, including several other of his projects, like in Pike County. The project, which was first announced in 2017, has been delayed because parts of the old mine site on Bent Mountain still need to be reclaimed.
Last Tuesday, American Resources Corporation announced a partnership with Edelen Renewables to study a potential project at Perry County Resources to determine the size and location of the solar arrays.
Edelen Renewables has 10 projects in the works throughout Kentucky, Virginia, West Virginia and Ohio.
"This will be the first, but it's not going to be the last large scale solar installation in Appalachia," Edelen said. "We know that every rural Kentuckian strives for work. We're going to create opportunities for folks to be in this place for a long time."
To date, the economic investment is solely by Edelen Renewables and Savion, a renewable energy company. They have determined the company that will buy the power and will announce it in the spring.
The Martin County solar project will be commercially operating in 2023. Hiring will begin next fall and constructionn will start in 2022. It takes about 18 months for the solar panel shipment to be delivered.
Edelen needs to get the OK from the state Public Service Commission next. At the site, Savion continues to collect data on how much solar energy is available year round.
(c)2020 the Lexington Herald-Leader (Lexington, Ky.) Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.