Post-industrial lands are a new opportunity for solar power


On a recent spring morning, coal mine operator Dale Murray was atop a stretch of land in western Virginia that had been slept flat by mountaintop strip mining. He appreciated the panoramic view it afforded of the surrounding Appalachian hills.

Murray’s company CM Mining acquired the thousands of acres of former mining land from Alpha Natural Resources in 2017. Describing it as picking up a parcel, Murray told Reuters many in the region considered the land useless. But he and his partner have zeroed in on an unpopular idea for this stretch of coal country. They intend to install a large-scale solar power project.

They believe it’s the future in this area, he stated.

New solar and wind power installations are growing up and giving new meaning to idle degraded spaces over the country. From shuttered Appalachian coal mines to previous phosphate projects in Florida and landfills in New England. The trend is likely to accelerate as President Joe Biden’s administration seems to expand renewable energy to combat climate change.

A need as significant as the Netherlands

Wind and solar power need at least ten times as much land as fossil fuels to provide the same amount of electricity, as stated by the Brookings Institution, and both the clean power industry and public officials would favor it does not crowd into areas that are wild, arable, or required for city planning.

As of last year, there were higher than 417 renewable energy installations on previously contaminated lands in the United States, as stated by the Environmental Protection Agency. In extension, the agency has selected more than 44 million additional post-industrial acres for renewable energy potential.

Much of that land could finish up in demand. Consultancy Rystad Energy expects that the Biden administration’s plans to decarbonize the economy will need more than 8.5 million acres for solar farms alone. This is an area more significant than the Netherlands.

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