Study Proposes Turning WV’s Degraded Land Into Solar Energy

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A recent study by environmental consultant Downstream Strategies found a new way to bring solar energy to the Mountain State.

It would do so, without taking away land for infrastructure development or green space.

“One of the arguments against integrating large amounts of solar resources in West Virginia is that our flat land in West Virginia is prime development,” said Joey James, Project Scientist with Downstream Strategies.

There is other land in West Virginia that Downstream Strategies has identified as a prime spot for large-scale solar.

In a new study, funded by a grant from the Appalachian Stewardship Foundation, it analyzed degraded land, which includes abandoned mine lands and Brownfield sites, landfills, hazardous waste sites and more.

“Our analysis looked at the site’s proximity to electricity infrastructure, the general topography of the site, so it the site flat, the size of the site, the site’s proximity to graded roads,” James explained.

Downstream Strategies found over 1,400 sites totaling nearly 220 square miles of degraded land that could host these large-scale solar facilities, giving West Virginia a new resource for electricity and create immediate jobs.

“We would be able to provide construction jobs to people who are out of work from the coal industry,” said James. “A lot of the machinery that it would take to do the land moving that would be necessary to prepare these sites is the same machinery that you’d be running on a strip mine job for a coal mine.”

Those jobs would continue with the installation of solar panels.

James says the state’s government controls much of the land, and they have reached out to learn more.  Downstream Strategies has also had interest from out-of-state utilities that deal with renewable energy. 

James also explained that solar development is much larger in neighboring states. According to the study, Virginia has 49 megawatts of solar projects and an additional 246 that are under construction. In West Virginia less than four megawatts of solar projects have been built.

“What a great way to kind of continue West Virginia’s legacy as an energy producer,” James said.

For more on the study, visit downstreamstrategies.com

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