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Mountaintop Removal Site Could Become Kentucky's Largest Solar Farm

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Mountaintop Removal Site Could Become Kentucky's Largest Solar Farm
A mountaintop removal site near Pikeville, Kentucky. Photo credit: Kenny Stanley/Berkeley Energy Group

Kentucky, like most of the Appalachian region, has been in economic distress since the bust of the coal mining industry. But, new hope for jobs and the ravaged environment may come in the form of the state's largest solar farm.


The company spearheading the initiative, Berkeley Energy Group, used to be a coal mining company and still owns thousands of acres of land in the area, including the abandoned mountaintop removal site in Pike County, Kentucky, just outside of Pikeville in the heart of coal country. Berkeley Energy is working with EDF Renewable Energy and former Democratic state Auditor Adam Edelen to build a 50-100 megawatt farm right on top of the old mine. The project was announced on Tuesday.

"This is really a history-making project for the region," said Ryan Johns, an executive with Berkeley Energy Group.

"Bringing together major players in both coal and renewable energy to build a solar farm on a mountaintop removal site, creating opportunity for out-of-work miners, is a once-in-a-lifetime project," Edelen told the Herald-Leader.

Coal production has drastically dropped over the last few years since the boom of natural gas and lower installation costs for renewables. According to Kentucky's Energy and Environment Cabinet, in 2016 alone, coal production in the region, including Pike County, dropped by 40 percent from 2015, and the number of coal jobs in the county decreased by 30 percent.

"We have the opportunity to combine the strengths of both companies to bring jobs and economic development to Appalachia," Doug Copeland, EDF development manager, said.

Though the developers aren't sure how many jobs would be supplied by the solar farm, the project would be a massive undertaking and several hundred acres would be used to operate the facility.

Pike County is in eastern Kentucky, which doesn't get quite as much annual sunlight as western parts of the state. But, building it in this specific location would help the developers work with the electric grid supplied by PJM, an electric company that works with homeowners to allocate renewable energy resources.

But, before they can establish anything with PJM, the developers must complete geological and energy studies to measure the potential for solar on the property. EDF said this could take until the end of the year. But, Johns said, "if it can be done, we'll get it done."

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An aerial view taken on August 8, 2020 shows a large patch of leaked oil from the MV Wakashio off the coast of Mauritius. STRINGER / AFP / Getty Images

The tiny island nation of Mauritius, known for its turquoise waters, vibrant corals and diverse ecosystem, is in the midst of an environmental catastrophe after a Japanese cargo ship struck a reef off the country's coast two weeks ago. That ship, which is still intact, has since leaked more than 1,000 metric tons of oil into the Indian Ocean. Now, a greater threat looms, as a growing crack in the ship's hull might cause the ship to split in two and release the rest of the ship's oil into the water, NPR reported.

On Friday, Prime Minister Pravind Jugnauth declared a state of environmental emergency.

France has sent a military aircraft carrying pollution control equipment from the nearby island of Reunion to help mitigate the disaster. Additionally, Japan has sent a six-member team to assist as well, the BBC reported.

The teams are working to pump out the remaining oil from the ship, which was believed to be carrying 4,000 metric tons of fuel.

"We are expecting the worst," Mauritian Wildlife Foundation manager Jean Hugues Gardenne said on Monday, The Weather Channel reported. "The ship is showing really big, big cracks. We believe it will break into two at any time, at the maximum within two days. So much oil remains in the ship, so the disaster could become much worse. It's important to remove as much oil as possible. Helicopters are taking out the fuel little by little, ton by ton."

Sunil Dowarkasing, a former strategist for Greenpeace International and former member of parliament in Mauritius, told CNN that the ship contains three oil tanks. The one that ruptured has stopped leaking oil, giving disaster crews time to use a tanker and salvage teams to remove oil from the other two tanks before the ship splits.

By the end of Tuesday, the crew had removed over 1,000 metric tons of oil from the ship, NPR reported, leaving about 1,800 metric tons of oil and diesel, according to the company that owns the ship. So far the frantic efforts are paying off. Earlier today, a local police chief told BBC that there were still 700 metric tons aboard the ship.

The oil spill has already killed marine animals and turned the turquoise water black. It's also threatening the long-term viability of the country's coral reefs, lagoons and shoreline, NBC News reported.

"We are starting to see dead fish. We are starting to see animals like crabs covered in oil, we are starting to see seabirds covered in oil, including some which could not be rescued," said Vikash Tatayah, conservation director at Mauritius Wildlife Foundation, according to The Weather Channel.

While the Mauritian authorities have asked residents to leave the clean-up to officials, locals have organized to help.

"People have realized that they need to take things into their hands. We are here to protect our fauna and flora," environmental activist Ashok Subron said in an AFP story.

Reuters reported that sugar cane leaves, plastic bottles and human hair donated by locals are being sewn into makeshift booms.

Human hair absorbs oil, but not water, so scientists have long suggested it as a material to contain oil spills, Gizmodo reported. Mauritians are currently collecting as much human hair as possible to contribute to the booms, which consist of tubes and nets that float on the water to trap the oil.

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