West Virginia may install solar on former coal sites

The environmental nonprofit The Nature Conservancy is working with West Virginia’s Coalfield Development Corporation to put large-scale solar energy on a decommissioned coal mine site. This would be a first in West Virginia.

Only one other coalfield has been converted to solar, in Virginia. According to PV Magazine:

The technical potential for solar on coalfields and other brownfields in central Appalachia has been estimated by the conservancy and West Virginia consultancy Downstream Strategies at 400,000 acres, which could host 50GW of solar.

On February 14, West Virginia lawmakers unanimously passed a bill to increase solar in the state overall.

SB583 aims to create “a program to further the development of renewable energy resources and renewable energy facilities for solar energy by modifying the powers and duties of the Public Service Commission.”

The state’s two utilities, American Electric Power and FirstEnergy, could each install up to 200MW of solar, in 50MW increments, potentially creating a 5,000% increase in the state’s solar capacity. As of the third quarter of 2019, according to the Solar Energy Industries Association, West Virginia ranked 48th in the US in solar, with 8.372MW installed. That’s only 894 installations and 341 solar jobs. In 2018, more than 90% of the state’s energy came from coal.

The Reclaiming Appalachia Coalition says that solar installation would create tens of thousands of jobs.

According to West Virginia Public Broadcasting, Senator Randy Smith (R-Tucker County) said on the Senate floor:

History is being made today. I believe this is the first solar bill ever brought forth on the Senate floor, and I can guarantee it’s the first one ever brought forth by a coal miner.

Electrek’s Take

This is potentially looking like a great leap forward for a historically heavily coal-dependent state that needs good, clean jobs.

West Virginia has recognized that they won’t attract business unless they get on the sustainability wagon, as corporations now have sustainability requirements. It’d be great to see former coal workers re-employed in green energy, and give their economy a clean boost.

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Michelle Lewis is a writer and editor on Electrek and an editor on DroneDJ, 9to5Mac, and 9to5Google. She lives in St. Petersburg, Florida. She has previously worked for Fast Company, the Guardian, News Deeply, Time, and others. Message Michelle on Twitter or at michelle@9to5mac.com. Check out her personal blog.