Harlan County, Ky., has a coal-mining museum. It’s putting solar panels on the roof.

·Senior Writer
Solar-panel installation on the roof of the Kentucky Coal Mining Museum. (Photo: Courtesy of Tre Sexton/Bluegrass Solar)
Solar-panel installation on the roof of the Kentucky Coal Mining Museum. (Photo: Courtesy of Tre Sexton/Bluegrass Solar)

A coal-mining museum in the heart of coal country is turning to solar power in an effort to save money and help the surrounding community.

The Kentucky Coal Mining Museum is located in Benham, in the southeast corner of the Bluegrass State. Housed in what was originally an International Harvester commissary, the museum opened in 1994 and contains tributes to the industry for which the area is best known.

The installation of solar panels by Bluegrass Solar began this week. Tre Sexton, the owner of the company, told Yahoo News that the installation was the first step in a program to help supplement the Benham-area power grid. Sexton said the project involved multiple companies and that funding was coming from many sources, including philanthropists in the area. Excess power from the panels will be fed back into the Benham grid.

As an example of the long-term goals of the program, Sexton referred Yahoo News to the community of Berea, Ky., where more than 150 residents have been leasing power from a solar farm that opened in 2012. Although a small farm with just 246 panels, the Berea facility has helped provide a model for larger cities like Louisville as the state looks to improve its ranking of 45th among the 50 states in renewable-energy production.

The museum is owned by Southeast Kentucky Community and Technical College, and Brandon Robinson, the communications director for the college, sees the irony in the situation.

“It is a little ironic,” said Robinson in an interview with EKB-TV, “but you know, coal and solar and all the different energy sources work together hand in hand. Of course, coal is still king around here, but when you talk about using other sources to start power, it’s always good to have more than one.

“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,” added Robinson in an interview with WYMT.

Benham is located in Harlan County, perhaps the area of the United States most synonymous with coal. The 1976 documentary “Harlan County, USA” — about a miners’ strike – won an Oscar. The FX series “Justified” was based in Harlan and often made reference to the coal-digging past of the two main characters, and the Darrell Scott song “You’ll Never Leave Harlan Alive” — also about the effects of mining on a community — has been covered by a number of musicians, including Brad Paisley and Patty Loveless.

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