In what it says is a cost-saving move, the Kentucky Coal Museum is moving to solar power, according to the Associated Press. The museum is having 80 solar panels installed, which it expects will cut $8,000 off its annual electricity bill. The Courier-Journal writes that the museum currently spends $2,100 a month on electricity.
The move seems prophetic at a time when tension between the highly polluting coal industry and renewable energy industry is high. Over the past several years, the coal industry struggled to compete with low natural gas prices, as well as plummeting costs of solar and wind energy. The Trump administration has promised to roll back regulations on the coal industry, but that’s not likely to be enough to completely counteract the economic pressures that are making coal relatively expensive to produce and burn.
The Kentucky Coal Museum is owned by Southeastern Kentucky Community and Technical College, which is paying for the solar panels. In an interview with local news station WYMT, the school’s communications director, Brandon Robinson, said “it is a little ironic, but you know coal and solar and all the different energy sources work hand in hand. And you know, of course, coal is still king around here.”
The Benham, Kentucky, museum is central to some of the most important coal mines in the US past and present. The museum contains a “state of the art underground coal mine” exhibit, which you can see by appointment, as well as a two-ton block of coal next to which visitors can have their picture taken. There are exhibits about early coal mining tools as well as a photography collection documenting the history of mining in the area. The third floor of the museum houses a portion of the personal music collection of country music singer Loretta Lynn, who sang “The Coal Miner’s Daughter.”
The owner of Bluegrass Solar, the company contracted to install the solar panels on the museum, told the Courier-Journal that he was as surprised as anyone when the school that owns the museum called him to talk about putting in solar panels. “Really the first time that I sat down and was talking about it with everybody, I was like… are you for real?” owner Tre Sexton said. “They’re really going to go for this?”
But Sexton added that electricity cost is always a major factor for large buildings without a huge revenue stream. “It’s like, ‘This might be coal country, but I cannot afford $600 a month.’ And that’s for a home,” Sexton told the Courier-Journal. “If it’s a business, God be with them, [the bills are] in the thousands.”
The solar installation on the coal museum will generate 60 kW of power at maximum capacity once it’s fully installed.
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