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‘Nature Conservancy’ is Turning Former Coal Mines Into Solar Hotspots

The earth is constantly in a state of change. As long as it continues to rotate around the sun’s orbit, there will never be a time when the planet is not actively changing. Though this was once a more gradual process, the advent of human industrialization has ramped that up dramatically. As we continue to identify and utilize varying forms of energy sources, we must figure out what to do with the dizzying underground tunnels we’ve created.

In Virginia, the Nature Conservancy, a nonprofit, has a plan that will devise an alternate use for these areas. The organization owns more than 250,000 acres of forest in the coal-rich Appalachia and plans to convert as many of the now-abandoned former coal mines into solar farms.

The energy gathered from the panels will then be distributed to the region’s power grid.

This initiative is a creative use of land that will harness the power of the sun. 

Image courtesy of Nature Conservancy

“We’ve identified the Appalachians as one of the most important places on Earth for us to do conservation,” said Nature Conservancy representative Brad Kreps. Kreps is responsible for overseeing the wave of solar rehabilitation projects in his work for the Nature Conservancy as director of its Clinch Valley division. To him, very few places on the planet present a comparable opportunity to make an impact. “We put the Appalachians in a very rare company along with the Amazon, the wildlands of Kenya, and the forests of Borneo.”

Known as the Cumberland Forest Project, the initiative is made possible through collaboration with various  energy companies  operating in the region.

There is a consensus among private industry partners like Dominion Energy and Sun Tribe, as well as public officials, that these mine sites provide benefits to renewable projects that aren’t often found in high supply.

Solar farms require flat areas exposed to sunlight, and old mines are the only parts of the mountains that fit the description. These places are also close to transmission lines, a massive advantage from a logistical standpoint. 

Image courtesy of Nature Conservancy

The project brings additional perks when taking into account the attitudes of the local communities, particularly as it relates to the optics of building solar infrastructure. “In the coalfield region, there are about 100,000 acres that’s been impacted from mining,” says Virginia Department of Energy representative Daniel Kestner. Transforming abandoned mines into a new way to harness and generate energy can be innovative and inspiring. These initiatives lead the way in capturing all the sun has to offer! 


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