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A Kentucky mine may be turned into a giant, water-powered battery

View from the sky toward hills with roads snaking through them
Rye Development
/
Submitted
A former coal mine in Bell County that could be turned into a energy storage project that creates hydroelectric power.

The Lewis Ridge Pumped Storage Project is undergoing a long federal permitting process to store electricity from the grid in the form of water.

Rye Development wants to dig two water reservoirs — one high and one low — on a former mine in Bell County. They call it the Lewis Ridge Pumped Storage Project.

When water is released downhill, it would run through a turbine which sends enough hydroelectric power to the grid to power a little less than 70,000 homes for up to eight hours. When demand is low, the turbine would use energy from the grid, which operates on a mix of renewable energy and fossil fuels. The system would be reversed to pump water back uphill for later. Essentially, it’s a gargantuan rechargeable battery for power grids.

The reservoirs would be a “closed-loop” system full of clean water, which the company says will have minimal impact on the environment.

During the permitting process, further studies would need to take place to determine impacts to endangered species including several species of bats that could be in the project’s vicinity.

Sandy Slayton, a vice president for the company said, so far, they’ve only received positive and helpful feedback from Kentucky agencies. Kentucky lawmakers have shown disdain for renewable energy generation.

“I was a little bit curious how it would be received, but the thing is that this technology is pretty much energy source agnostic,” Slayton said. ”We're providing this new, safe, clean, no-waste energy source for this community that really isn't actually mining anymore honestly.”

The company estimates the “Lewis Ridge Pumped Storage Project” will cost more than $1.5 billion dollars to create.

Rye Development has two other ongoing pumped energy storage projects in the northwest U.S., which one critic has said is more expensive than the amount of power they can affordably create.

“We wouldn't be looking at building projects that didn't make any sense,” Slayton said. “Some independent people have made some analyses, but I have no idea what they're —you know, those are not correct, basically.”

Both those projects were sold to Copenhagen Infrastructure Partners before breaking ground on construction.

Justin is LPM's Data Reporter. Email Justin at jhicks@lpm.org.