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The Kentucky Coal Museum is installing solar panels on its roof, this is a part of a project aimed at lowering the energy costs of one of the city’s largest electric customers. It’s also a sign of the state’s efforts to move away from coal as its primary energy source as more coal-fired power plants are replaced by natural gas. The state legislature has only recently lifted its ban on nuclear power, a ban that was decades-old.
“It’s a little ironic or coincidental that you are putting solar green energy on a coal museum,” said Roger Noe, who is a former state representative who also sponsored the legislation which created the coal museum. “Coal comes from nature, the sun rays come from nature so it all works out to be a positive thing.”
The museum is situated in Benham, a town that was once a coal camp whose population peaked at an estimated 3,000, Today, it has about 500 people, and 85-year-old Mayor Wanda Humphrey says she is the mayor because no one else wants the job.
“It takes our entire police force – we have one person, we have Ryan – to get me in the building and back out,” she said.
The town’s second building was a company commissary known as the “big store,” where Humphrey would visit every day after school to order an RC Cola and a bag of peanuts, charged to her father’s account. Today, that building houses the Kentucky Coal Museum, which opened in 1994 with the help of some state funding. The museum houses relics from the state’s coal mining past, including some items from the personal collection of “Coal Miner’s Daughter” country singer Loretta Lynn.
It’s also the best place in town to get the most direct sunlight, which made it an ideal location for solar panels.
“The people here are sort of in awe of this solar thing,” Humphrey said.
The Southeast Community and Technical College, which owns the museum, expects the solar panels to save between $8,000 and $10,000 a year on energy costs, according to spokesman Brandon Robinson.
“We’re happy to be able to hopefully provide some power to the city of Benham that we’re not using here,” Robinson stated. “So it’s a great project; it’s a great effort.”
Clinton, while speaking about renewable energy, stated, “We’re going to put a lot of coal miners and coal companies out of business,” And president Donald J. Trump promised “sweeping deregulation” of the coal industry.
Trump’s plan struck a chord with some miners, really influencing them.
The museum will still offer anyone passing through the hollers of Kentucky a sight into an industry that really defined a part of America. Only it will be looking to the sky, rather than in the earth, to light the way