From a climate protection perspective, it is essential to refrain from burning coal in the future. This basically applies to all countries worldwide. At the local level, however, this sometimes creates major problems. Because when coal mines and coal-fired power plants close, well-paid jobs are lost. The affected regions are threatened with economic decline. In this context, politicians speak of the challenges of structural change. In Germany, for example, this could be observed in the Ruhr area after the mining of hard coal was no longer profitable. In addition, it has now been decided to phase out lignite. The regions affected should therefore receive billions of euros in government subsidies in order to be able to actively shape structural change. In the US state of Kentucky, the future of the energy transition can be observed on a small scale: There, the largest solar farm in the state is being built on the site of an old coal mine.
33,000 households are to be supplied with solar power
There are certain advantages to this approach. The required infrastructure in the form of roads and power lines is already in place. This minimizes the initial investment costs. Perhaps more importantly, there is a sufficiently well-trained workforce on site. Because the solar power plant is being built by former employees of the coal mine. They usually have knowledge of electrical engineering and live on site. This creates a win-win situation. The employees will soon find a follow-up job and may be able to establish themselves permanently in this area. The operators of the solar park, in turn, have to employ fewer skilled workers from outside. This also reduces costs. In Kentucky, a solar power plant with a capacity of 200 MW is now to be built on the site of the former Martiki coal mine. In purely mathematical terms, this is sufficient to supply around 33,000 households in the region with clean electricity.
Kentucky is grappling with economic problems
It is also quite possible that the project will soon develop a kind of exemplary character. Because coal mining still plays a comparatively large role in Kentucky. In the long term, however, this will no longer have a future. At the same time, the state is one of the poorer in the United States. In terms of GDP per capita, Kentucky ranks 42nd among the 50 US states. The unemployment rate is also higher than the national average. Simply closing the coal mines without replacement can therefore not be an option. A consistent expansion of renewable energies could help to at least mitigate the economic and social consequences. Work on the new solar farm on the old coal mine will start next year and last until 2024. During this time, 250 to 300 people will be employed there. After commissioning, eleven full-time positions should remain.