Virginia’s largest electric utility and a global conservation group have announced plans to convert former coal mines into a solar farm, adding to a growing number of projects across the country aimed at repurposing old fossil fuel sites.
Dominion Energy Virginia and the Nature Conservancy said yesterday they will redevelop 1,200 acres of the former Red Onion surface mine and surrounding coal sites in southwest Virginia into a 50-megawatt solar array capable of powering 12,500 homes.
The Highlands solar project partnership “demonstrates the really important role that southwest Virginia and other coal mining regions of the country can play in the clean energy transition,” said Aaron Ruby, Dominion Energy spokesperson. “It’s a huge economic win for southwest Virginia and a huge economic opportunity for other coal mining towns.”
The solar farm will be built in the Nature Conservancy’s Cumberland Forest Project, an area of protected land spanning southwest Virginia, eastern Tennessee and eastern Kentucky, according to a news release. The Nature Conservancy unveiled a similar project in May, in which the nonprofit agreed to partner with two solar energy companies — Virginia-based Sun Tribe and Washington-based Sol Systems — to repurpose other former coal properties in the Cumberland Forest Project region.
Altogether, the Dominion, Sun Tribe and Sol Systems developments will cover about 1,700 acres and generate 120 MW of solar energy, according to the release.
Officials say they hope the Highlands project — which Ruby said will be the country’s largest utility-scale solar facility developed on a former coal mine — will serve as a model for other brownfield sites in the U.S. The Red Onion site ceased mining operations in 2013.