Energy agency announces $475M in funding for clean energy projects on mine land sites

FRANKFORT, Ky. (AP) — The Biden administration pumped more money into clean energy projects Thursday, announcing up to $475 million in federal funding for projects in five states — including the political battleground states of Pennsylvania, Arizona and Nevada.

The projects will accelerate clean energy development on current and former mine lands, the U.S. Department of Energy announced. The other states benefiting — Kentucky and West Virginia — are solidly Republican and have been hit hard by the downturn in the coal sector.

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The funding comes from the $1 trillion bipartisan infrastructure law — one of President Joe Biden’s hallmark legislative victories. The projects in Kentucky, West Virginia and Pennsylvania advance efforts to transition away from coal to solar and hydropower.

The administration said the clean energy projects will strengthen the country’s energy security while helping ensure mining communities continue playing a role in the energy economy.

“Workers and communities that powered our country for the last 100 years deserve the chance to power us for the next 100 and beyond,” Deputy Energy Secretary David Turk said in a press call Wednesday.

Rye Development CEO Paul Jacob talks about his company’s plans to build a $1.3 billion coal-to-pumped storage hydropower facility as Gov. Andy Beshear looks on during a news conference, Thursday, March 21, 2024 in Frankfort, Ky. Jacob says the project will create about 1,500 construction jobs and 30 operations jobs once the facility is operational. (Tom Latek/Kentucky Today via AP)

Energy and climate policies have emerged as flash points in this year’s presidential race between Biden and Republican former President Donald Trump. Trump has indicated he’ll try to roll back Biden’s clean energy investments and expand drilling for oil and natural gas if he returns to office.

Biden’s administration said the latest round of funding reinforced his commitment to building an “inclusive and equitable clean energy future that creates healthier, more resilient communities.”

In Kentucky, a $1.3 billion pumped storage hydroelectric facility will be built on a former coal mine site, Democratic Gov. Andy Beshear said. The project has been approved for a federal grant totaling up to $81 million to assist with construction of the plant in Bell County in southeastern Kentucky, Beshear said.

“The mountains in this area provide the perfect landscape for moving water from one elevation to another, creating electricity when we need it,” Turk said.

Coal employment numbers in Kentucky have fallen sharply over the last decade as demand for coal has declined. Kentucky employed about 4,700 mine workers at the end of 2023, including about 2,700 in underground mines, compared to nearly 12,000 total miners in 2013, according to numbers provided by the state.

The Lewis Ridge Pumped Storage Project by Rye Development in Kentucky will create about 1,500 construction jobs to build what officials described as a first-of-its-kind coal-to-pumped storage hydropower facility, Beshear said.

“We believe … this is the largest investment ever in eastern Kentucky,” he said.

Once built, the facility will create 30 operations jobs and generate enough energy to power nearly 67,000 homes, he said.

The federal funding also will support:

—A project in southeast Arizona to deploy direct-use, geothermal, clean heat combined with a battery energy storage system at two active copper mines. It will help decrease the mines’ reliance on thermal backup generators while supporting the annual extraction of 25 million pounds (11.3 million kilograms) of copper. Kathleen Quirk, president of Freeport Minerals Corp., said the copper the project plans to extract from already-mined material was previously considered unrecoverable. The project aims to create 121 construction jobs and 12 permanent operations jobs.

—A project in Nevada’s Elko, Humboldt and Eureka counties to develop a solar facility and accompanying battery energy storage system across three active gold mines. By shifting to clean energy, the project could demonstrate a replicable way for the mining industry to reach net-zero operations while meeting growing demands for minerals, the Energy Department said. Project construction is estimated to create about 300 jobs.

—A project in Clearfield County, Pennsylvania, to repurpose nearly 2,700 acres (1,090 hectares) of former coal mining land to create a utility-scale solar facility. The project will generate enough clean energy to power more than 70,000 homes. It will increase regional access to clean energy and fill a critical electricity-generation gap following the closure of the Homer City coal plant, the department said. More than 750 construction jobs and six operations jobs are expected to be created by the project. The project owner, Boston-based Swift Current Energy, has said construction could begin as early as summer 2024 and is scheduled to be online by the second half of 2026. In November, it announced that it had a 20-year contract to supply power to New York’s grid.

—A project in Nicholas County, West Virginia, to repurpose two former coal mines with a utility-scale solar system that would power about 39,000 homes. The two inactive mine sites provide land and access to existing energy infrastructure that will transmit the solar energy the project generates to the grid. The project is projected to create about 400 construction jobs and four operations jobs.

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