Can Solar Power Breathe New Life into Former Coal Mines and Other Brownfields?

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Can Solar Power Breathe New Life into Former Coal Mines and Other Brownfields?

What if former coal mines, landfills or abandoned industrial sites, typically considered eye sores, could be reclaimed as positive, productive, green power-producing community assets? What if water treatment ponds could do double duty, serving as an important step in processing water but also doing more? What if urban blight, rundown buildings and unkempt lots, could be repurposed into valuable community resources?

Anything is possible with solar power, vision and public/private support.

This weekend as I was relaxing with my dog after our daily run when I came across this story from West Virginia:

The Eastern Pennsylvania Coalition for Abandoned Mine Reclamation (EPCAMR) has been awarded a grant to identify sites for the solar energy projects. Read the full story here.

That caught my eye. Turns out that EPCAMR is one of five agencies selected by the Reclaiming Appalachia Coalition to receive $7,000 in startup funds and 30 hours of project technical and planning assistance to develop a site selection criteria tool to assist partners and private developers in reclaiming abandoned mine lands in Pennsylvania for potential solar installations.

What an incredible idea for the State of Pennsylvania, which currently has one-quarter of a million acres of abandoned coal mines, ranging from water-filled pits, strip mines with steep cliffs, and acre upon acre of unstable piles of waste coal and dirt. Taking a portion of this unused acreage and turning it into sites for solar installations to generate clean, renewable energy is genius on many levels.

Here’s what converting old coal mine sites into solar farms with the help of the Reclaiming Appalachia coalition means for Pennsylvania:

  • Unproductive, unsafe land is returned to safe, productive use.
  • Former fossil fuel sites now generating renewable, carbon-free energy.
  • Job creation to design, build and maintain solar arrays.
  • Homes, businesses, schools, and municipal buildings powered by clean solar power.
  • The land under the solar arrays planted with native grasses and wildflowers, creating much-needed habitat for pollinators, birds and animals.
  • A community eye sore becomes a source of community pride.

The State of West Virginia is also working to transition old coal mines to solar power 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.

The potential impact of these efforts is huge. The potential for solar on coalfields and other brownfields in central Appalachia has been estimated by The Nature Conservancy and West Virginia consultant Downstream Strategies at 400,000 acres, which could host 50 gigawatts of solar. Keep in mind, one gigawatt is the equivalent of 3.125 million photovoltaic panels that would generate enough solar energy to power roughly 35,500 homes for a year. (This is dependent on size of the house, time or year and energy consumption.)

Efforts to reclaim and repurpose retired coal mines to solar power sites can be extended to other types of real estate like old landfills and industrial sites not suitable for residential use. It can be extended to blighted neighborhoods with abandoned buildings. Even fully functioning places like water treatment plants can do double duty – see my blog on floatovoltaics. Again, these kinds of efforts are a win for all, particularly when communities, businesses and farms want to use more sustainable energy like solar, but there is push back on using expensive or productive land. It’s kind of like recycling land!

In closing, anything is possible with solar energy when you have a vision, are creative and have support. If your business, water treatment plant, farm, school of hospital wants to get creative with solar energy, Solential is your go-too partner. We provide commercial solar solutions, from design to build to maintenance – we even find financing for you. To explore the possibilities, connect with me, Corey Miller, cmiller@solential.com or 317. 627.4530.