By 1977, strip mining in the Appalachians was turning hundreds of miles of spectacular mountain panoramas into bare, dead, empty moonscapes as far as the eye could see.
Two groups were speaking past each other on the subject.
The coal operators were shrugging off the destruction, one of them actually recorded on video saying "These mountains ain't no good for nuthin' anyway." Nothing except supporting families with the bounty of mature, diverse forests.
The environmentalists and local activists were jumping up and down with their hair on fire, accurately predicting the devastation of mountain communities to come over the next decades and demanding a solution.
You see, when you strip mine for coal, you are literally stripping everything from trees and leaf mold right down to bedrock. Mining laws required that operators "restore" the original slope after the coal is gone, but that is just exactly as impossible as you imagine.
Then people looked at those new expanses of horizontal land and saw development that hadn't been possible on Appalachia's vertical slopes. But bedrock is unwelcoming to water lines and septic tanks. Turns out bedrock was really not good for nuthin'.
But even back then, some crazy hippies were shouting "Solar! Put solar panels on that bedrock!"
Silly hippies. Everybody knows solar power is a myth. Or at least not something that could bring good jobs and cheap, clean energy to the mountains.
A Kentucky coal company announced Tuesday that it is planning to build a solar farm on a reclaimed mountaintop removal coal mine and that the project would bring both jobs and energy to the area.Berkeley Energy Group, the coal company behind the project, billed it as the first large-scale solar farm in the Appalachian region, which has been hit hard by the decades-long decline in the U.S. coal industry. The company, in partnership with EDF Renewable Energy, is currently conducting feasibility studies for the project on two reclaimed strip mines, both located in the eastern part of the state. Berkeley Energy Group estimates that the solar farm could produce as much as 50 or 100 megawatts of electricity, which would be five to ten times the size of Kentucky’s largest solar farm.Berkeley Energy Group’s project development executive told the Louisville Courier-Journal that the company did not intend to replace its coal production with the solar farm, but instead viewed the project as a chance to reclaim used land while creating job growth in the area.“I grew up with coal,” said Ryan Johns, BEG project development executive. “Our company has been in the coal business for 30 years. We are not looking at this as trying to replace coal, but we have already extracted the coal from this area.”Coal, which for decades has been the primary source of electricity production in the United States, has suffered from competition with cheaper sources of energy like natural gas, as well as solar and wind. Increased automation and stronger environmental regulations have also pushed the industry into decline. According to the Louisville Courier-Journal, coal extraction in Eastern Kentucky fell from 23 million tons in 2008 to about 5 million tons last year. Over the same period of time, mining employment dropped from 14,373 to 3,833.