The irony is not lost on the museum’s administrators, but the thousands of dollars in energy savings from the new solar array were too good pass up.
The Kentucky Coal Mining Museum might seem like the last place in America that would go solar but the reality is, people who really understand the energy industry understand the importance of new technology.
“It is a little ironic,” Brandon Robinson, communications director at Southeast Kentucky Community and Technical College, which owns the museum, told WYMT. “But you know, coal and solar and all the different energy sources work hand-in-hand. And, of course, coal is still king around here.”
“We believe that this project will help save at least eight to ten thousand dollars off the energy costs on this building alone, so it’s a very worthy effort and it’s going to save the college money in the long run,” said Robinson.
The museum is located in the small town of Benham, Kentucky, in Harlan County. In the 2016 election, Harlan County voted overwhelmingly for Donald Trump, based on his promises to bring back coal jobs to the region. Economists and energy experts agree that the campaign promise will be a very hard one for the President to keep, but in the meantime, new solar is being installed, even there in the heart of coal country. The project includes 20 solar panels installed by Bluegrass Solar, based in Whitesburg.
Tre Sexton, owner of Bluegrass Solar told WYMT that the system would cost around $17,000 or $20,000 — but the system would pay itself off within five to seven years. “I think everybody knows when we’re talking about attractions like this — these high-volume, low-traffic municipal attractions — something has got to give, to keep their expenses down.”
Kentucky is not a state whose legislature has been particularly supportive of the solar industry. It is one of only 13 states that has no stated goal for increasing renewable energy. However, this isn’t stopping significant renewable energy investment in the state. L’Oreal Cosmetics largest production facility located in Northern Kentucky is in the process of installing the state’s largest solar array, 1.5 MW. Built in partnership with Scenic Hill Solar, the Florence project will consist of approximately 5,000 solar panels. The array is projected to cut CO2 emissions in Kentucky by approximately 1,195 metric tons per year, equivalent to eliminating over 2.8 million miles traveled by passenger cars per year, according to EPA Greenhouse Gas Equivalencies.
GM is also committing to solar in Kentucky. The auto giant installed am 850-kilowatt solar array at it’s Bowling Green Corvette facility. The array is the largest solar installation by any automaker in Kentucky. The mechanism will generate 1.2 million kilowatt hours of energy annually — enough to produce about 850 Corvettes, a GM news release noted near the time of the project’s groundbreaking late last year.
Tough times may be ahead for residential and small business solar in Kentucky, though. State Senator Jared Carpenter introduced SB 214 earlier this spring. The bill, one of a plethora of ALEC and energy industry lobbyist written bills that have popped up in state legislatures across the nation, is designed to gut uniform net metering rules and throw up roadblocks for new indie solar projects. Although the bill may be dead for this legislative session, chances are that legislators like Carpenter who receive large campaign contributions from the utility industry will be back next year to try again.
Fortunately, forward-thinking employers are not waiting for legislators like Carpenter to catch up with current energy industry trends. L’Oreal, GM, and now even the Kentucky Coal Mining Museum are leading the way to new, clean, safe solar jobs and relegating the dirty and dangerous coal mining industry to history, where it belongs.
Facts on the Kentucky Solar Industry
From the Solar Energy Industry Association
- 1.1 megawatts (MW) of solar capacity were installed in Kentucky in 2015, a 71% increase over 2014. Kentucky ranks 42nd nationally in 2015 installed solar capacity.
- Of the solar capacity installed in Kentucky in 2015, 907 kW were residential and 223 kW were commercial.
- The 9.5 MW of solar energy currently installed in Kentucky ranks the state 37th in the country in installed solar capacity. There is enough solar energy installed in the state to power 900 homes.
- In 2015, $4 million was invested on solar installations in Kentucky.
- Average installed residential and commercial photovoltaic system prices have dropped steadily across the nation— by 6% from last year and 48% from 2010.