(Solar) powering the economy
A 700-acre solar farm on a former surface mine outside of Hurley will be more than it appears, according to Adam Edelen.
“Buchanan County and the entire region of Southwestern Virginia intends to benefit from the digital economy rather than be a victim of it,” says Edelen, CEO of Edelen Renewables.
Based in Lexington, Kentucky, Edelen’s company has partnered with Savion, a Kansas City-based solar developer involved in 156 projects in 28 states, including five in Virginia, but this is Edelen’s first collaboration with Savion in the commonwealth.
With groundbreaking set for 2023, the $100 million, 75-megawatt solar farm will generate about $100,000 in annual tax revenue for Buchanan County, create about six permanent jobs and 250 construction jobs. Edelen says there will be a “heavy focus on hiring local.” He plans for workers to finish the yearlong job with “an academic credential that will certify them as utility-scale solar installers.”
The largest anticipated economic impact is the business the solar farm might attract.
“Access to green energy is a precondition for modern economic development,” Edelen says. “To be relevant to the opportunities of the digital economy, you have to have clean energy.”
Jonathan Belcher, executive director of the Virginia Coalfield Economic Development Authority, agrees. “That’s clearly where the national and global economy, [the] energy economy, is headed.”
In this case, the new energy economy will be sharing space with the old.
“They will actually be installing solar panels while they’re still mining coal,” says Del. Will Morefield, R-Tazewell, whom Kentucky-based CM Mining asked to help arrange the project. The company also plans to put several thousand mined acres in a conservation easement. Morefield calls it “one of the country’s first mining operations that is not only mining coal, but they’re making efforts to reduce the carbon footprint.”
Surface mines and solar farms have considerable overlap in infrastructure: high-capacity transmission lines; access to roads and rail lines; and flat land, according to Edelen. Surface mines require the first two and create the third.
Government support helps, too.
“Virginia has done a better job than almost any state in the entire United States in envisioning a renewable energy future,” Edelen says. That support runs from the county to the General Assembly and across party lines, he says. “Green energy isn’t partisan. It’s just smart.” ν