Solar could be installed on a coalfield in the U.S. state of West Virginia if plans by Virginian environmental organization The Nature Conservancy are realized.
The U.S.’s largest environmental non-profit is seeking a decommissioned mine site to purchase or lease and is working with West Virginia’s Coalfield Development Corporation to secure funding to develop a site with large scale solar generation, forestry and tourism infrastructure.
The conservancy, which boasts annual revenue of $1 billion, has also bought almost 400 square miles of land in the Appalachian Mountain region of Kentucky, Tennessee and Virginia including thousands of acres of former surface coal mines, according to a report by the Reclaiming Appalachia Coalition of organizations which includes post-coal-mining-economy civic group the Coalfield Development Corporation. The Nature Conservancy “would love to see some solar developed” on those coalfields, said Kelley Galownia, media relations manager for the conservancy’s Virginia chapter. “We are currently at the feasibility phase,” she said, “exploring options with state agencies, utilities and solar developers.”
To date, there is just one well-known project on a former surface coal mine in the country, a 3.5 MW array in southwestern Virginia.
The technical potential for solar on coalfields and other brownfield sites in central Appalachia has been estimated by the conservancy and West Virginia consultancy Downstream Strategies at 400,000 acres – land which could host 50 GW of solar generation capacity. That estimate was based partly on analysis which considered potential solar developments larger than 300 kW in size and within a mile of transmission lines, according to a conservancy spokesperson. Cost-effective potential has not been estimated but, as a possible upper limit, building half of the technical potential – 25 GW of solar – would yield tens of thousands of jobs, according to the Reclaiming Appalachia Coalition study.
Across central Appalachia, “identifying and mapping mine sites that are viable for solar development could help expedite” solar projects, states a report published by The Nature Conservancy, Downstream Strategies and the Center for Energy & Sustainable Development at West Virginia University’s law school.
That study flags the issue of environmental liabilities associated with former mine sites, noting: “Leasing from willing landowners, rather than purchasing land, would provide an opportunity to shield solar developers from previous environmental responsibilities.”
The Nature Conservancy website lists tackling climate change as its top priority and says the organization is planting trees and promoting carbon pricing, clean energy research and development, technological solutions for carbon removal, and energy storage tax credits.
The Reclaiming Appalachia Coalition consists of citizen advocacy group Appalachian Voices in Virginia; the Appalachian Citizens’ Law Center in Kentucky – a legal non-profit which works on behalf of former mining industry employees affected by ill health; the Coalfield Development Corporation in West Virginia; NGO Rural Action in Ohio; and Downstream Strategies.