Huge solar panels under a bright sky with some white clouds.
Indiana, USA A field of solar panels in Indiana. © American Public Power Association

Stories in West Virginia

Solar on Reclaimed Mine Lands

Developing a roadmap to advance solar energy in West Virginia.

Benefits of Solar Energy Development

  • Create new jobs and retrain laid off coal miners to apply transferable skills such as heavy equipment operation for site preparation, electrical wiring, etc.
  • Attract new manufacturers and employers.
  • Replenish much-needed tax base that has dwindled with the decline in coal markets.
  • Create new revenue streams for mine-land owners by turning unproductive liabilities into potentially profitable assets.
  • Minimize land use conflicts from energy exploitation on greenfields elsewhere.

West Virginia has a time-sensitive opportunity to compete with surrounding states for investments and jobs created by solar energy development. We can also grow the economy by attracting new industries, employers and manufacturers to the state.

A groundswell of major companies ranging from Walmart to P&G to Facebook have committed to sourcing 100% of their power from renewable energy. Other states in the region are already benefitting. Virginia, North Carolina, Maryland and Pennsylvania have made it easier for solar markets to be developed and meet the renewable energy demands of these companies as well as their residents. Through its Solar on Mine Lands Initiative, The Nature Conservancy has created a road map to do the same on former mine lands and brownfields in West Virginia and beyond. 

Download the Executive Summary of the Roadmap.

As the pace of solar development surges, we are advancing important strategies to determine where solar development occurs. We're helping stakeholders prioritize land areas that have already been disturbed by industrial activity and steer development away from forests and other lands that are important for clean water, wildlife, forestry, carbon sequestration and tourism. 

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics projects that solar photovoltaic installers will continue to be the fastest growing occupation from 2018-2028.

How West Virginia Can Leverage the Benefits of Solar Energy

The costs to generate and install solar have fallen precipitously over the last decade, and it is now the most cost-effective resource in many electricity markets. Solar energy installations are growing rapidly across the United States. More than 240,000 people are currently employed in the solar industry, and the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics projects that solar photovoltaic installers will continue to be the fastest growing occupation from 2018-2028; jobs are projected to grow by 63% per year. With the right enabling conditions in place, West Virginia can expand its existing solar energy industry from rooftop installations to large-scale developments on former mine lands and capture new jobs and investment opportunities.  

The Nature Conservancy’s Solar on Mine Lands Initiative is working with a diverse set of stakeholders to create these enabling conditions. We are doing this by raising awareness about the benefits of solar, identifying viable sites for development and advancing smart policy changes grounded in science to create a fair and predictable energy market. 

All stakeholders—from state leaders to solar developers to land owners—have a role to play in catalyzing large-scale solar energy development. The Nature Conservancy has developed a Solar on Mine Lands Road Map to identify steps for West Virginia to capture the benefits of solar.

Two people in hardhats and safety vests walking under a huge array of solar panels.
Large-Scale Opportunities With the right conditions in place, West Virginia can expand its solar industry from rooftop installations to large-scale developments on former mine lands. © Dave Lauridsen/TNC
A worker harnessed on a roof installing a solar panel.
New Jobs Jobs in the solar sector are projected to grow by 63% per year over the next 10 years. © TNC

A Road Map to Solar Development

“By encouraging the development of large-scale solar on former surface coal mines, West Virginia has an historic opportunity to build upon its legacy as a domestic energy provider," says Eriks Brolis, economic development lead for The Nature Conservancy in West Virginia. "With a fair and predictable state policy framework, a new energy economy could emerge: creating jobs for miners to apply transferable skills, generating valuable lease revenues for landowners and replenishing the tax base for local communities—all while helping to attract new employers and industries to the state.”  

The Road Map was created over time with input from important stakeholders. Through The Nature Conservancy’s unique Nature & Economy Summits, we convened state leaders, solar developers, mine land owners, economic development experts, utilities, corporations and others to elevate the opportunity and collectively identify actions. 

If we don't act now to create the enabling conditions to grow solar, West Virginians will miss out on the economic, conservation and climate benefits of solar energy that surrounding states are experiencing.   

Download the Executive Summary

Reclaimed Mine Lands: A Large-Scale Opportunity

Preliminary analysis suggests there are up to 400,000 acres of former mine lands that are suitable for large-scale solar developments across West Virginia and the Central Appalachians. That is: the land is relatively flat, lacks forest cover and potentially has preexisting access roads and transmission lines. If all these former mine lands were harnessed for solar development, it would be enough land area to double the total solar capacity that has been installed in the U.S. to date.

As energy markets shift and revenue from coal declines, solar is an important pathway for West Virginia to continue serving as an energy leader. Solar will generate new climate-friendly revenue streams for landowners, conservation compatible renewable energy output for corporate purchasers and an opportunity to retrain laid off coal miners with transferable job skills to participate in the new energy economy. 

And, by siting solar on former mine lands and brownfields, West Virginia and surrounding states will sustain their forests, supporting outdoor recreation and opportunities to generate revenue through timber and forest carbon credits.

Solar on mine lands is a win for the economy and a win for nature, and it serves as a key solution to help tackle climate change.  

Solar By the Numbers

  • 400,000

    acres of former mine lands across the region are suitable for large-scale solar developments—enough to double the U.S.'s current solar capacity.

  • 240,000

    people are currently employed in the solar industry, and the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics projects solar jobs to grow 63% each year.

  • 29

    states have adopted Renewable Energy Standards to promote clean energy markets and economic growth.

What The Nature Conservancy is Doing

The Nature Conservancy’s work includes:

  • engaging stakeholders through outreach
  • distributing best practices
  • identifying viable sites
  • supporting pilot projects 
  • advancing policy changes to support the development of a robust marketplace for solar on conservation compatible lands such as mine lands, brownfields, parking lots and rooftops

The Nature Conservancy is committed to working with the owners of former mine lands, mining companies, solar energy developers, utilities, renewable energy purchasers and state and local decision-makers to create the conditions necessary for West Virginia to capture the benefits of solar energy. We stand ready to do what’s required to move the Solar on Mine Lands Initiative forward. We would like to work with as many stakeholders as we can to create a platform for long-term, solution-oriented engagement where the necessary details can be worked out over time.   

Interested in Learning More? Please contact:

Eriks Brolis
Economic Development Lead

Beth Wheatley
Director of External Affairs and Strategic Initiatives