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Rural Blog: Plan to put huge array of solar panels on a mined mountaintop could depend on more mining

Plans by EDF Renewables to put the largest solar farm ever built in Kentucky on a mined mountaintop are in limbo because of a coal company years behind in the cleanup that must come first, is dragging its feet. The $150 million project was proposed a year ago, and would be located on Bent Mountain in the state’s easternmost county, James Bruggers reports for Inside Climate News.

If the project is not ready to go in 2019 or 2020, the federal tax breaks for renewable energy projects begin to decrease, making it less economically feasible. “If Kentucky Fuel would do what they said they would do there wouldn’t be a problem,” Ryan Johns told Bruggers. Johns is one of the farm’s developers and the vice president of Ross Harris Group, which comprises more than 30 companies that focus on coal, oil, gas, timber and real estate. One of those, Berkeley Energy Group, is a coal mining company that wants to diversify into renewable energy. Berkeley is getting the land ready in conjunction with Adam Edelen, a former state auditor who had the original idea and is handling finance and marketing, and EDF, an international solar and wind energy developer.

“Four years ago, settling one of the largest enforcement actions in Kentucky’s recent history, the coal company’s owners promised state officials that they would complete a tangle of reclamation work spread over several counties by September 2015,” reports Bruggers, a former environmental reporter for the Louisville Courier Journal. “But the case has dragged on in court. It’s a fight that involves one of the most powerful families in the region, headed by Jim Justice, the billionaire coal baron who is now governor of West Virginia.”

The cost of reclaiming a poorly reclaimed mine site is often subsidized by extra coal mined during the reclamation, and “Kentucky Fuel wants more mining to help pay for the work,” Bruggers reports. “But it is not clear whether valid leases are in place for that approach. That, too, may have to be sorted out; if not, the state could issue a permit for reclamation only, but the work would be more expensive. It’s unclear whether the costs of additional reclamation and the possibility of paying for it with more mining would materially affect the solar farm’s construction costs.”

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The Rural Blog is a digest of events, trends, issues, ideas and journalism from and about rural America, from the IRJCI, based at the University of Kentucky. The Institute for Rural Journalism and Community Issues is an extension program for rural journalists and news outlets. It takes no positions on issues and advocates only for strong news coverage, responsible commentary and things that make them possible, such as open-government laws. For more information see www.RuralJournalism.org.

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