Some days, stories come to my inbox that make me laugh so loud that the office dog raises her head lazily to see what has Dad making such loud noises.
Yesterday was one of those days, when I saw the delightful story that The Kentucky Coal Mining Museum in Benham, Kentucky, flipped the switch yesterday on a solar array to keep the lights on and, more importantly, to save money.
In a world where President Donald J. Trump has promised to bring coal jobs back to the United States (spoiler alert: He can’t – even the mine owners say so), the irony of having a museum dedicated to preserving the history of coal in the United States being powered by solar is delicious.
The museum, which is dedicated to the oft-unsung heroes of the Industrial Revolution in the United States, is housed in and operated by Southeast Kentucky Community and Technical College, whose communications director told a local TV station that the irony was not lost on him, nor was it lost on the rest of the museum staff. But in the end, the cost-savings to the school is worth it.
“We believe that this project will help save at least $8,000 to $10,000 off the energy costs on this building alone, so it’s a very worthy effort and it’s going to save the college money in the long run,” Communications Director Brandon Robinson told WYMT. “It is a little ironic, but you know, coal and solar and all the different energy sources work hand-in-hand. And, of course, coal is still king around here.”
According to its website, Benham is “The Little Town That International Harvester, Coal Miners and Their Families Built!”, and the museum stands as a daily reminder of the town’s glorious past, when its coal mining families powered a nation and helped build its industrial might.
But as the museum goes, so may go the rest of the town. The installation was completed by Bluegrass Solar, a local company owned by one Tre’ Sexton, who explained to EKB-TV that excess power from the system will power other buildings in Benham, which has a population of nearly 500.
It would be wonderful to see solar bloom deep in the heart of Kentucky coal country. The people in the region are hurting as the coal veins dry up – and with them the jobs that provided livelihoods for hundreds of people down through generations. And I think this first glimmer of solar on the coal museum should be seized on by the industry.
This array is part of a technical college. Let’s get some solar educators down there posthaste and set up a program to train coal miners to become solar installers. Let’s light the way forward for these workers who have been displaced in the modern economy. Let’s shine the solar light into Benham and make it an example for other towns in the region to follow.
And maybe – just maybe – a solar revolution can turn the museum into a true preservation of the past rather than an amber-trapped present.
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