The Transformation of an Old Coal Mine into the Largest Solar Plant in the Eastern U.S.

The move towards sustainable energy has been one of the most significant changes in the modern world. As the world looks to save the environment and mitigate climate change, there has been a concerted effort in recent years to build renewable energy plants. In a move that highlights this transformation, Rivian (through a power purchase agreement) has backed the construction of one of the largest solar plants in the U.S. The plant will sit atop a former coal mine and will be the largest installation of its kind in the eastern U.S.

The 800 MW colossal solar plant from BrightNight shall rise atop the Starfire mine in southeastern Kentucky. The mining operation has been ongoing since the 1960s, and the land has been remediated with soil compaction and grass seeding.

However, mining continues in one corner of the parcel. BrightNight’s project aims to cover a 7,000-acre area with solar panels if they can accomplish their objective, transforming the landscape into a site that produces clean energy for the nation.

BrightNight aims to deliver the first phase of solar construction by 2027, filling out to 800 megawatts by 2030. The plant itself is a marvel to behold, and its effects on the environment are stunning.

Coal to Solar! An 800-MW solar facility representing a $1B investment will be sited on one of the nation’s largest coal mines in southeastern Kentucky, covering 7,000 acres of remediated land developed by BrightNight, led by CEO Martin Hermann.

The project will also include BrightNight’s construction of up to a twenty-mile transmission line, enabling an additional 1 GW of renewable power generation to be connected regionally.

Rivian, led by CEO RJ Scaringe, will purchase 100 MW to offset the increase in electricity demand from 450 million miles of renewable driving each year with Rivian’s EV-charging network buildout within PJM Interconnection. The Nature Conservancy will also purchase 2.5 MW to help meet its sustainability commitments.

Julian Spector of Canary Media Inc. also notes, “Instead of adding clean capacity just anywhere, Starfire puts it on the third most carbon-intensive state grid (71% of Kentucky’s electricity generation in 2021 came from coal). As emphasized by the emerging metric of emissionality, new solar in a coal-heavy region will displace more carbon than it would in regions already flooded with solar generation in sunny hours.”

For more on emissionality, a concept coined by Gavin McCormick, CEO of See the Duck-Belly Blues growing in CAISO:

The project will bring in $400M in state and local tax revenue. Helping to make the project economically viable, is the Energy Community Tax Credit Bonus under the IRA that adds an extra 10% to the PTC or ITC for projects located on a census tract or directly adjoining a census tract in which a coal mine closed or where a coal-fired power plant was retired. See U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) map of Coal Closure Energy Communities:

In addition, this monthly report from U.S. Energy Information Administration shows electric generator inventory and includes a list of soon-to-be retired generators, which is useful for planning to site future coal to solar projects! An important benefit of siting at former coal-fired power plants is utilizing existing transmission infrastructure, reducing interconnection upgrade costs. See Inventory:

For Annual Electric Generator Report:

In Illinois, an innovative Coal-to-Solar Energy Storage Grant Program awarded five projects, located on former coal plant sites, $280M in grant funding to provide a combined 255 MW of energy storage capacity.

For more on other Illinois coal to solar projects:

Thanks Leon Gerard Vandenberg (万 利 民) for sharing RMI’s How to Retire Early Report:

Also, Global Practices for Financing of Early Coal Retirement:

coal to solar

Besides producing clean energy, the plant’s construction has significant long-term benefits for the surrounding environment and the local communities. The plant’s construction marks a significant transformation that will enable the rehabilitation of an area that has been heavily impacted by coal mining.

The transformation of old coal mines and other mining operations is nothing new in itself. Most mining operations involve excavating minerals, oil, or gas deposits from under the earth’s crust. Nevertheless, the aftermath of these activities often leaves the land scarred and depleted. Sites like the Starfire mine serve as a reminder of the destructive legacy of mining for fossil fuels. However, the construction of solar facilities on these landfills acts to repair the environment and give the land a new lease of life.

The transition from coal mines to solar plants has long-term benefits for the residents of the surrounding area. The inhabitants often have to contend with the harmful effects of pollution as a direct result of coal mining. The shift towards renewables such as solar energy will bring cleaner air and water to their communities, enabling them to enjoy better health and more comfortable living conditions.

The construction of the massive solar plant atop the Starfire mine is a testament to the shift towards renewable energy. The project is an indication that the future of energy lies in clean, renewable sources of power. The solar plant will provide sustainable clean energy for generations to come, and the transformation of the land from a scarred former mining site to a thriving solar plant emphasizes that there’s always hope for change. It is incredibly refreshing to see companies such as Rivian taking responsibility for the environment and the health of communities. The outlook is bright for a sustainable future, and efforts such as the Starfire mine project show that if we work together, we can indeed make significant changes to the environment that benefit us all!