THE BLOG
09/12/2008 05:12 am ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

"D-Carbon" Brings Solar to the Coalfields

The name says it all. Carbon County, Pennsylvania is a county of 58,000 located in the heart of the Keystone State's famed anthracite coalfields. The county was famous not just for its coal, but also the notorious Molly Maguires that exemplified the kind of organized violence between workers and bosses that marked 19th century American industrialism. Pennsylvania is also the state that launched the petroleum industry, with the sinking of the Drake Well in Titusville (on the opposite end of the state from Carbon County) in 1859. But times, they are a changin'.

Carbon County, in a poetic turn, is now set to host the second largest solar facility in the nation. State Rep. Keith McCall (D-Carbon) is working with Green Energy Capital Partners to bring the Pennsylvania Solar Park to the area. At 10.6 megawatts, it will avoid some 320,000 tons of carbon emissions over its lifetime. It will be the largest of its kind in Pennsylvania and the second largest in the country.

Other changes are also afoot in the region. Weatherly (one of the boroughs in Carbon County) recently applied to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission for a permit to install a turbine at an existing dam on the Lehigh River. It would be enough to meet all of the borough's electricity needs. The New York Times reported in June that neighboring Schuylkill County was considering switching from sacrosanct anthracite to cleaner-burning natural gas--another energy source on the rise in the state and across the country thanks to new discoveries and new methods of extracting it from shale formations--to fuel the county's boilers.

Though coal may putatively (and politically) remain king in many areas of the country--particularly in Appalachia, the number of people employed in coal mining has plunged. Coal employment in Pennsylvania, for example, peaked at 121,000 in 1942 and hovers at just 8,000 today. The tenacious and powerful United Mine Workers had half a million members in the 1950s, today it is left with just 86,600 members and now represents just 42 percent of the workers in the industry. The loss of jobs in the coal industry has not only brought deepening economic hardship to Appalachia, but since it has come in no small measure as result of mountaintop removal mining it has also wrought environmental disaster. Here's what the Gore-acle himself had to say about this "atrocity" at Netroots Nation:

By contrast, renewable energy is bringing new opportunities to economically depressed communities, including parts of Pennsylvania that were decimated by the collapse of the steel industry. Thanks to the tireless efforts of Gov. Ed Rendell (and smart policies like a state Renewable Electricity Standard and other incentives), Gamesa, the Spanish wind company, has located four factories and its North American headquarters in Pennsylvania--creating over 1,000 new, union-represented jobs and over $1 billion in US sales in under 4 years. Smart policy played a pivotal role in luring the company, as wind-rich Minnesota lost out to wind-mediocre Pennsylvania in the competition for the company's HQ and first factory in part because Minnesota had no state RES at the time. Rendell's efforts have lured numerous other renewable energy projects--with some 10,000 new jobs--to the state.

If Carbon County can kick the habit, then who can't?