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Former eastern Kentucky coal mine site will be revived into hydropower facility

A holler slated for construction of a hydropower facility
Rye Development

A former Eastern Kentucky coal mine is being revived into a storage facility that creates hydroelectric power. Gov. Andy Beshear joined officials on Thursday from the U.S. Department of Energy to announce the project in Bell County.

A former coal mine in Bell County will become the site of a massive renewable energy project.

Joined by officials from the U.S. Department of Energy on Thursday, Gov. Andy Beshear announced the abandoned coal mine site adjacent to the Cumberland River will store electricity from the grid in the form of water.

“We believe this is the largest investment ever in Eastern Kentucky," stated Beshear.

The $1.3 billion Lewis Ridge Pumped Storage Project will build a first of its kind coal-to-pumped storage hydropower facility.

According to project's website, pumped storage facilities rely on gravity to produce energy. The system moves water between a lower reservoir and an upper reservoir. When energy is plentiful, excess power is used to pump water from the lower reservoir to the upper reservoir. Then, when demand for power is high, water is released from the upper reservoir and used to turn hydroelectric turbines to generate on-demand electricity. This on-demand energy is critical to ensuring reliability during extreme weather events.

Due to the decline of the coal industry, Bell County, located in southeastern Kentucky, saw nearly a quarter of the community relocate, significantly decreasing the area’s tax revenues since 1970. Senate President Robert Stivers of Manchester says it will be transformational project for the region.

“They (Bell County) had a population in that county of 50,000 at one time and now has less than 30,000," said Stivers. "This is an opportunity to restore hope.”

The project is expected to create about 1,500 construction jobs and 30 positions once in operation. Rye Development, a major U.S. hydropower developer, is leading the project.

“This project is not only a significant investment in Kentucky; it’s an investment in strengthening our national electricity grid, helping to secure our energy future,” said CEO of Rye Development Paul Jacob. “The Lewis Ridge Pumped Storage Project will protect against blackouts and brownouts, while transforming a former mining site into a long-term economic engine for the region.”

The project is being funded with the help of an $81million federal grant from the DOE.

The hydroelectric facility will power about 67,000 homes each year.

The announcement was made on the same day a resolution was passed in a legislative committee declaring Kentucky a "sanctuary state" from certain federal energy policies.
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