The photograph above speaks to the humanity of coal mining culture in a time when the world is trying to wind down its use of coal. It is not fair, in so many ways, that miners seem to have so few options; but a way forward will be found. The billboard in the photo below may suggest otherwise, but opportunities for those miners are not likely to include coal. Thanks to Cara Buckley for this vivid portrait of a place historically focused on extraction, its people who are in need of a better future, and the tensions that come with making that better future happen:
In Martin County, Ky., where coal production has flatlined, entrepreneurs are promising that a new solar farm atop a shuttered mine will bring green energy jobs.
MARTIN COUNTY, Ky. — For a mountain that’s had its top blown off, the old Martiki coal mine is looking especially winsome these days. With its vast stretches of emerald grass dotted with hay bales and ringed with blue-tinged peaks, and the wild horses and cattle that roam there, it looks less like a shuttered strip mine and more like an ad for organic milk.
The mountain is poised for another transformation. Hundreds of acres are set to be blanketed with solar panels in the coming year, installed by locals, many of them former miners. The $231 million project, which recently cleared its last regulatory hurdle, may well be the biggest utility-scale coal to solar project in the country.
It would be a desperately needed economic boost drenched in symbolism: Renewable energy generated from a shuttered mine in the heart of Appalachia, where poverty grinds on in the aftermath of the coal industry’s demise.
In many ways, the project is a test case for whether a region once completely dependent on digging fossil fuels from the ground can be revived by creating clean energy from the sun. As coal continues to decline — the number of jobs nationwide fell to about 40,000 last year from 175,000 in the mid 1980s — supporting former coal communities is seen as vital for what has been termed a “just transition,” in part to ward off backlash against attempts to decarbonize.
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