By Brad Bowman
The Kentucky Energy and Environment Cabinet’s new solar site suitability tool spotlights the renewable energy and economic potential of old mine lands like the project in Martin County.
Using a state-map database, geographic information system (GIS), the Kentucky Office of Energy Policy (KOE) along with a team of GIS and data experts at EEC and the Cabinet for Economic Development developed a solar site suitability tool last year capable of mapping out locations in the commonwealth with favorable topographical, environmental and infrastructural conditions for utility-scale solar project development.
Savion, a Missouri-based renewable energy company, is developing the former Martiki mine site in Martin County. The EEC solar site suitability tool independently identified the Martiki mine site as a favorable one for solar development. With construction of the Martin County Solar Project expected to begin this year, Savion plans to transform about 1,200 acres of the land into a 200-megawatt capacity solar energy facility able to power approximately 33,000 homes.
“This is a good example of reusing a specific land type. This validates our siting tool, which identified the site in eastern Kentucky,” KOE Director Kenya Stump said. “For the community, this is economic development, it presents a good opportunity for workforce training and STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) education.”
With proximity to power transmission lines to an Inez substation, the site met all the factors for a utility-scale solar facility including community interest and a positive economic analysis, according to Stump. Most importantly for Savion, this presented a creative re-use of environmentally sensitive land that both local and state officials and stakeholders supported.
“We are excited to see the Martin County Solar Project advance. The project team is extremely grateful for the ongoing support of the community, for the county officials, and the residents for believing in this opportunity and putting in the work to see this facility succeed,” Savion’s Martin County Solar Project Director of Development Erich Miarka said.
Once built, the project will generate revenue for the entire community for decades, according to Miarka, with increased tax revenues for Martin County, its school district, new jobs and positive economic boosts to direct and indirect supply chains.
“It represents Kentucky’s first large-scale solar development on a former coal mining site,” Martin County Judge-Executive Colby Kirk said. “We will see a mountaintop removal site, which was once mined to produce energy for our country, once again generating energy. This time using the latest solar technologies. I look forward to the new jobs that will be created in Martin County throughout the course of this project and I am confident other companies will take notice of the opportunity to invest in Martin County as a result.”
The project will create nearly 300 jobs with 11 full-time Kentucky positions and eight specifically in Martin County. Scheduled for completion and operational by 2024, it will be one of Kentucky’s largest solar-energy generated facilities.
Edelen Renewables is a local development partner on the project.
“When the Martin County project with Savion goes under construction it will be the first utility-scale ‘coal-to-solar’ project in the United States,” Nathan Cryder, chief operating officer of Eden Renewables said. “Everyone is committed to the local, socio economic impact of this project.”
Since 2020, the Electric Generation and Transmission Siting Board has had more than 30 solar large-scale siting projects put before it from all over the state. The uptick indicates Kentucky’s renewable energy potential.
“From an energy standpoint, it shows our diversification and utilizing our existing infrastructure in new ways,” Stump said. “This is the first project we’ve seen on mine lands and more developers are starting to look at reclaimed mine lands. It signals new economic development opportunities from companies that want to be near these large solar projects. Sometimes the biggest economic development boom may not come from solar, but the companies it attracts.”