Kentucky's Largest Solar Farm Sited at Former Appalachia Coal Mine

A group that includes Rivian, the California-based electric vehicle manufacturer, said it will turn the site of a former coal mine in Kentucky into that state’s largest solar farm.

The Starfire Mine, located in Breathitt, Knott, and Perry counties in Kentucky, for years operated as one of the largest coal mines in Appalachia, producing as much as 3 million tons of coal annually at its peak. Officials from Rivian, Florida-based global renewable energy producer BrightNight, and The Nature Conservancy on July 25 said they will transform the Starfire site into “a clean energy project that would accelerate an equitable, science-based clean energy transition that maximizes positive impacts on climate, conservation, and communities.”

BrightNight CEO Martin Hermann said his company will develop the project. Jennifer Morris, The Nature Conservancy’s CEO, and Rivian founder and CEO RJ Scaringe also were part of Tuesday’s announcement. Those group have power purchase agreements (PPAs) for some of the generation from the project.

800-MW Solar Farm

Officials said the 800-MW BrightNight Starfire Renewable Energy Center represents a $1 billion investment and will be the largest renewable energy project in Kentucky. It also will be among the largest clean energy installations to be built on a former coal mine in the U.S.

BrightNight as part of the project will build a transmission line that could span 20 miles. The company said the infrastructure would enable another 1 GW of renewable energy power generation to be built in the region.

“Rivian is one of the most innovative and forward-thinking manufacturers in America, and we are proud that they have chosen BrightNight and the Starfire Renewable Energy Center to help achieve their sustainability goals,” Hermann said. “Together, we are transforming a coal mine, reinvesting in a region eager to continue its role as an energy leader, and demonstrating the incredible impact of corporate power procurement.”

The first phase of the four-phase construction of Starfire is expected to begin in 2025. Rivian said it will buy 100 MW of the solar farm’s generation from Phase 1 through a PPA with BrightNight.

Scaringe said, “Shifting our energy system to carbon neutrality goes beyond electrifying the roughly 1.5 billion vehicles in the global fleet. We must also support the decarbonization of our energy infrastructure through the responsible deployment of renewable energy.” He continued, “We are thrilled to collaborate with organizations like The Nature Conservancy and BrightNight to bring Starfire to life and help create a scalable model for a modern grid that provides reliable, affordable, and carbon free energy for all.”

The Nature Conservancy, a global environmental nonprofit, has a PPA for up to 2.5 MW of generation from the first phase of the project. The group said its purchase will enable renewable energy credits to offset the carbon emissions of its offices.

“Significant investments in infrastructure will be critical to solving the climate crisis, but how we invest is just as important as how much we invest: We need to ensure both people and the planet are central to these decisions, especially in communities like the Appalachians that have powered America for centuries and have tremendous natural resources,” said Morris. “We are proud to collaborate with Rivian and BrightNight on this important project.”

Darrell Proctor is a senior associate editor for POWER (@POWERmagazine).

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