Kentucky coal town powering a solar future | National | – WJRT

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Inez, Ky., was built on coal, but solar power appears to be the town’s future.
INEZ, Ky. (The Weather Channel) – Electricity powers the world.
It lights our homes, fuels our economies and keeps us comfortable year-round. But the way we generate power is changing much faster than anyone predicted.
A solar revolution is under way in an unlikely place: the coal fields of Kentucky. Coal helped America win two world wars and powered generations of Americans with cheap electricity.
Coal also built many Appalachian towns, like Inez, Ky.
“Coal is our history. Coal is our DNA. We’re coal miners. We have been for many, for many, many, many decades,” said Martin County, Ky., Judge Executive Dr. Lon Lafferty.
Inez has the rather dubious honor of being a stop on President Lyndon Johnson’s 1964 Poverty Tour. Lafferty would like to shake off — or at least shake up — that decades-old image.
“Prior to the development of the coal industry, we were living in fairly abject poverty throughout this region,” he said. “But as you look around today and you see the finer homes and the finer automobiles, nicer schools, people that are educated. Coal has played the most important part in that.”
Coal miner Ben Kinzer remembers more affluent times for his hometown, when the coal industry was soaring.
“When I was younger, there was actually businesses around here and this place was booming and it was actually a beautiful place,” he said. “And the coal industry left and this place is — kinda went down a little bit. So, here we are, hoping to bring it back up with these solar panels.”
Solar power is coming to Kentucky coal country in a big way.
Like many great stories, this one begins with a failure. Adam Edelen, founder of Edelen Renewables, lost an election and needed to find himself a job.
“I have endured a lot of taunts,” he said. “I have been told for the five or six years that we’re in this that it would never work, that no one would want to work on a site like this, that these folks preferred their past to their future.”
There was so much coal here, a mountain top was removed to get it. That left 1,200 acres of mostly-unused level ground, perfect for a utility-scale solar power plant that will generate 200 megawatts of electricity.
“That’s enough to power about 27,000 Kentucky homes,” said Savion Development Director Erich Miarka.
Ironically, the same electric substation that fed an energy-hungry mining operation will now send solar power back out to the grid. That hugely expensive infrastructure made the project possible in the remote, rugged location.
Plans call for 440,000 solar panels to be installed in two phases, employing more than 300 people.
“So we see this as an opportunity — maybe not the greatest opportunity, but at least an opportunity,” Lafferty said.
The downside: All but about a dozen of these jobs will be temporary, lasting about 24 months. But judging from this job fair turnout, people want to work.
“They want opportunity. They don’t want a hand out,” Edelen said.
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