A Coal Company Is Planning A Major Solar Project On A Former Kentucky Strip Mine Tuesday, Apr 18 2017 

In the first project of its kind, a Kentucky coal company is partnering with a global renewable energy giant to explore putting a major solar installation on a former mountaintop removal coal mine.

Coal company Berkeley Energy Group and EDF Renewable Energy have been working on the initial phase of the project for more than a year. Although it’s still in the early phases, the plan includes putting 50 to 100 megawatts of solar panels on a surface mine site outside of Pikeville.

This would be the biggest solar plant in the state — potentially 10 times larger than the solar array at Kentucky Utilities’ Brown Station in Central Kentucky.

“Appalachia has long been an energy producer that has fueled the whole country,” said former state auditor Adam Edelen, now of Edelen Strategic Ventures, who is also involved in the project. “There’s no reason that shouldn’t continue; we just need to make sure we have an all-of-the-above energy approach, and I think incorporating solar and training and some of the best and brightest and hardest-working people you’ll ever find into a next generation industry is really a profound opportunity.”

From Berkeley Energy’s perspective, solar is a natural addition to the company’s portfolio and a potential moneymaker. Project Development Manager Ryan Johns said using mined-out sites for solar is one way for the land to be productive post-mining, rather than sitting vacant. He said first and foremost, Berkeley considers itself a coal company, though the company also has oil and gas assets.

“For us, this is not a competition against coal in any way,” he said. “What we’re wanting is as much coal to be mined as possible. What we look at is as kind of an offset to coal. This area has been mined, there’s no more coal to be mined, so now you can still have energy being provided for this area. It’s still providing jobs, it’s still helping the economy, it’s still providing energy for our country.”

If the project is realized, it’ll be one of the more consequential energy projects in the U.S. today, said Kiran Bhatraju. He’s the CEO of renewable energy company Arcadia Power and a Pikeville native.

“I really don’t think you can overstate the importance of this project and what it means for the region and for renewable energy writ large, to say we can build competitive projects anywhere in the country,” he said.

Real Reclamation

On the way to the grassy mountaintop removal site about 12 miles northeast of Pikeville, there’s a billboard sitting about the town of Zebulon. “Our Past, Our Future: Coal,” it proclaims.

In reality, the future of Eastern Kentucky may be more complicated than that.

Kenny Stanley drives me in his Chevy truck up the mountain to take a look at the potential site of Kentucky’s largest solar array. This part of the mountain has been reclaimed, but there’s still coal being mined on an adjacent site. When the wind blows right, you can hear the distant sounds of machinery, but otherwise it’s quiet. Birds chirp. At one point, Stanley points to two turkeys pecking in the bushes.

This isn’t a typical solar site. For one thing, it’s not flat, though there are some large flat areas. It’s likely some of the land will be re-contoured if the project is built.

And then there’s the issue of soil stability. You can’t build a major solar array if there’s a chance the soil will start compacting at some point.

Erica Peterson | wfpl.org

The view of the potential solar site from the ground.

“We’re definitely going to be spending more time on the geotechnical investigation than we might on another site, just because it’s not what we would call ‘native soil,’” said Doug Copeland, Regional Development Manager for EDF. “So, this was a mountain, it was taken apart, and now it’s going to be graded back. So, once you get more than a couple inches below the soil, you’re not quite as certain what you might find as when you’re building a solar project on farmland or in the California desert or even on old timberland. It’s definitely going to require a little more work than you might otherwise.”

But there are two other things that the site has going for it: Roads crisscross the mountain — providing lots of easy ways in — and power lines stretch overhead to carry the solar energy to customers.

Berkeley and EDF don’t know who those customers are yet, though EDF has already filed an application with PJM Interconnection, the region’s energy market. The plan is for the solar energy to be sold directly to a large corporate customer.

“Obviously, there are a lot of big companies out who that would love the opportunity to use renewable energy produced in Appalachia,” Edelen said.

And that’s true. As more and more large companies have self-imposed renewable energy mandates, they want to locate in places where they’ll have access to renewables. Currently, Kentucky isn’t one of those places.

Another thing Kentucky doesn’t have: a renewable energy mandate. State Rep. Mary Lou Marzian of Louisville has introduced bills proposing something similar for years; the measures never pass.

This year, the bill was amended on the House floor with anti-renewable energy provisions.

And this, said coal executive Ryan Johns, puts this project at a disadvantage by making it a little riskier for a renewable energy company to invest here.

“It would be spectacular if Kentucky had some renewable mandate,” Johns said. “We think that would help drive other businesses to come in. but whether that happens or not, we are going to go ahead with the project.”

Coal Mining Culture

Pike County is still one of Kentucky’s largest coal producers; in 2015, it produced nearly 7 million tons of coal. That’s a 25 percent drop from the coal that came out of the county as recently as 2009.

But there are other institutions here, too: there’s a university and a major hospital. On Monday, downtown didn’t feel as desolate as many small Appalachian towns can. Parking was at a premium; people were setting up carnival rides on one end of downtown for “Hillbilly Days,” the annual festival that starts later this week.

At Small Town Tattoo — which doesn’t, according to a posted sign, do cheap tattoos — Clyde Harless said his business suffers along with the ups and downs of the local coal industry. But lately, things seem to have settled out.

Harless’ face is covered with tattoos, as are the visible parts of his body. He said people come into the shop wanting coal-related tattoos all the time.

“Like helmet, pickaxe, stuff like that,” he said.

That hasn’t changed as more miners are laid off. Most people, he said, are getting these tattoos for family or cultural reasons.

But in 2015, according to the latest county-level data available, there were only about 1,600 coal miners working in the county. That’s down from more than 4,400 in 2009.

Hope for the Future

If this project gets off the ground, that by itself will be significant; Edelen calls it a “moonshot.”

But if it’s a success, both Johns and Edelen say it could be transformative for Appalachia.

Back in 2009, nonprofit Appalachian Voices estimated nearly 1.2 million acres of land in the region had been cleared by mountaintop removal coal mining. What would it mean for the struggling communities if there are solar fields on some of those?

“It means real economic diversification,” Edelen said. “Coal will see some revitalization, but I don’t think anyone believes its shoulders will be so large again that it can support the entire region. So what we’re talking about doing is bringing in a new industry.”

One of Berkeley’s demands before choosing EDF as a partner was that the project would use current and displaced coal miners from the area. With a solar project, most of the jobs will be in construction, and Johns said many miners would be well-suited for the job.

The project’s organizers don’t have projections yet on number of construction or permanent jobs.

“Our guys are very skilled workers,” he said. “They worked with a lot of metal, a lot of welding, a lot of heavy machinery. So I would believe a lot of these men would be able to pick this up very quickly. It definitely would require some additional training, but I believe it would be a matter of weeks and not months.”

Ultimately, all the people involved in the project are eyeing it as an economic venture, and for it to get off the ground, the solar energy produced will have to be cost-competitive. But the partners say they think they can make it work. If everything falls into place, construction could begin as early as next year.

And maybe, the next generation will be lining up for tattoos of suns and solar panels from Clyde Harless at Small Town Tattoo.

White ‘Night’: Reading Harry Caudill In Trump’s Kentucky Saturday, Dec 17 2016 

The chatter has been continuous since at least the spring, a pervasive hum warning us of the disaffection of the White Working Class. Since the early hours of Nov. 9 and Donald Trump’s victory, the chatter has turned into a roar. The startling and, for many, unforeseen electoral outcome brought a doubling down on calls to understand the WWC.

Several recent books, including historian Nancy Isenberg’s White Trash: The 400-Year Untold History of Class in America and sociologist Arlie Russell Hochschild’s Strangers in Their Own Land: Anger and Mourning on the American Right, have examined some of the history and concerns of the WWC.

But J. D. Vance’s Hillbilly Elegy: A Memoir of a Family and Culture in Crisis has been greeted as a kind of Rosetta Stone for our political moment. The poignant, frequently charming book traces Vance’s life from eastern Kentucky to southern Ohio and on to the hallowed halls of Yale Law School.

At base, though, Hillbilly Elegy is Vance’s damning cultural analysis wrapped in the trappings of memoir. Hillbilly Elegy makes blanket assertions about Appalachians, trotting out several tired conservative ideas to prove its implicit argument that, for the most part, the challenges of Appalachian poverty and culture stem from personal failings of Appalachians and have little to do with systemic obstacles or inequalities. This instinct — to blame residents of Appalachia for their problems — runs deep when we start talking about this kind of book.

All of these books, and Vance’s in particular, share a common Kentucky-born ancestor, one of the most important American books ever published about the plight of the working poor. Harry Caudill’s Night Comes to the Cumberlands: A Biography of a Depressed Area, first published in 1963, is an often-overlooked American masterpiece that has received credit for igniting Lyndon Johnson’s “War on Poverty.”

Harry Caudill

By turns idiosyncratic, exhilarating and exasperating, Night takes a poetic, angry look at two centuries of Appalachian history — from Indian wars through moonshining to the coal industry — to explain and create sympathy for the impoverished residents of eastern Kentucky.

Born in 1922 in Whitesburg, the Letcher County seat, Caudill led a dynamic life before settling into his role as chronicler of his beloved home region. He served in the Army during World War II, practiced as an attorney in eastern Kentucky and was elected three times to the Kentucky House of Representatives. He concluded his career as a professor of Appalachia History at the University of Kentucky.

An autodidact with a flair for storytelling, Caudill embarked on Night after publishing an article titled “The Rape of the Appalachians” in a 1962 issue of The Atlantic.

Night Comes to the Cumberlands is one of those strange books that is more known about than read. Similar to W.J. Cash’s The Mind of the South, much of Night’s power stems from the poetic conviction and narrative verve of the author.

That’s really just a way of saying that if Caudill wrote today, the book wouldn’t survive a dissertation defense. The book lacks footnotes. It privileges robust truth over rigid fact, often playing loose and fast with minor details. The book exudes a manic energy, a relentless moral inertia. This is an ungainly metaphor, but Caudill writes like he’s falling down a staircase — he may not touch each step as he tumbles, but for the most part he ends up at the bottom of things.

As Wendell Berry said when eulogizing Caudill in 1990, “He saw, and he said, in as many ways as he could find, that we are involved in a disaster. One the one hand, he saw the hills, the streams, the trees and the people; he saw, on the other hand, the great moneyed interests that had not the power to see the hills, the streams, the trees and the people, but only the power to destroy them.”

Southwings and Vivian Stockman

Ron Eller, professor emeritus of history at UK (he holds Caudill’s former chair, actually), says Caudill is someone full of “myth and prophecy.” This is romantic language, of course, but romantic language befits Caudill, a flawed crusader with courage to stand up for both his beliefs and the relatively powerless residents of Appalachia.

It’s also true: myth for the stories that have sprung up around his most famous book and prophesy for the book’s eloquent prescience.

It’s become common knowledge — or as common as knowledge can be when it comes to issues like rural poverty, issues that until the last few months most Americans happily ignored — that Night was an essential catalyst for the War on Poverty. This in only somewhat true. Soon after its publication, The New Yorker reviewed Caudill’s book alongside Michael Harrington’s The Other America. As the story goes, this review sparked JFK’s desire to address rural poverty. According to Eller, this was not the case.

There was already something called the East Kentucky Development Commission that [Kentucky] Governor Combs created in 1960,” Eller says.

Eller himself is an authority on the region; his book Uneven Ground: Appalachia since 1945 is an essential contribution to Appalachian Studies.  

“There was a major book published the same year as Night Comes to the Cumberlands called The Southern Appalachian Regional Survey,” Eller continues. “What I’m saying is that while Night Comes to the Cumberlands did in fact play an important role and became a national symbol, it wasn’t in and of itself [the spark for the War on Poverty]. There’s no real evidence that Kennedy actually read the book. He clearly was influenced by the review and then by Caudill’s article in The Atlantic .He did read that and he was he was influenced by both of those, but that’s not why we got the war on poverty.”

Before Kennedy could visit the region, he was killed. Johnson took up much of Kennedy’s agent, including the formalized War on Poverty. Where Night Comes to the Cumberlands play a minor role in sparking the social program, Caudill’s engagement with the issue after Johnson took office was arguably more important.

According to Eller, not a single substantive piece of journalism about Appalachia was written without consulting Caudill. He and Anne, his wife and writing partner, would greet visiting journalists and guide them through eastern Kentucky, with Caudill regaling them with stories through their trip. This as much as the book itself lent Caudill an outsize influence on what the country thought of Appalachia.

What of Caudill’s prophecy?

Caudill’s prophecy was of just being clear-eyed, of course. In the real world that’s what prophecy really is — the ability to see the suggestions of the future in the deformities of the present. He was able to see clearly the history of violence that had been visited on the people of the region, from both internal and external sources, and how that had create a region ripe for exploitation by the coal industry, the primary villain in Night.

“But the tragedy of the Kentucky mountains transcends the tragedy of coal,” Caudill writes toward the beginning of Night. “It is compounded of Indian wars, civil war and intestine feuds, of layered hatreds and violent death. To it sad blend, history has added the curse of coal as a crown of sorrow.”

This is mesmerizing writing, but it is also one of the truest things that can be said about the region’s economic hardships. Caudill was one of the first writers speaking this way about the region — and maybe the first from the region.

“The broader issues that Harry raises, how industrial capitalism can bring benefits but at tremendous costs because of the inequalities and the injustices when government looks the other way to a place and the people,” Eller says, “that’s what Harry was talking about. He talks about the destruction through strip mining of eastern Kentucky and what’s going to do to the water and the health of the people and we can’t survive. You know it seems to me that so much of that has come true. Harry was one of the first to say that Appalachia is a mirror to the rest of the country, and we ought to be looking at it.”

Of course, Caudill was not flawless. He sometimes traded in hillbilly stereotypes. More importantly, a noxious form of J.D. Vance’s essentialism crops up in Caudill’s work — it lies at the edges of Night but moved to the foreground as Caudill aged into pessimism about the region’s prospects for economic and social progress.

In the 1970s he became enchanted by some pathetic ideas about genetics — he felt that the residents of Appalachia were poor genetic stock and that for the region to succeed, outside blood was necessary. This is as absurd as it is vile, and these lines of inquiry did great violence to Caudill’s reputation. These positions are not defensible, though we can say that Caudill was merely a man of his times. Moreover, it seems fair to say that Caudill’s work for justice did more good than his flawed attempts at genetic theorizing.

“I would argue that in many ways he is still a prophet for today if you can take some of the better ideas,” Eller says. “That’s like trying to understand any historical figure or person. You can’t take them whole. You have to take what you can learn from them and translate them into the demands of the day and how we understand life today.”

And understanding life today seems as complicated as it is necessary. Kentucky’s a microcosm of the nation — with solidly blue Louisville and Lexington swimming in a sea of red. And folks feel economically adrift out there. Today’s attempts at understanding are worth our time, but more than reading contemporary tea leaves we could do well to look  at one of the singular classics of the genre.

Toys Collected at Dec. 17 Men’s Basketball Game at LouisvilleKy’s KFC Yum! Center Wednesday, Dec 7 2016 

Story from gocards.com
LOUISVILLE, Ky. — New toys will be collected and subsequently donated to Norton’s Children’s Hospital at the University of Louisville’s Dec. 17 men’s basketball game against Eastern Kentucky.

New toys for any age or gender will be collected at the entrance of the KFC Yum! Center. A group of the toys will also be provided to the Home of the Innocents and Wesley House. The collection is associated with UofL Athletics’ CardsCARE program and Kyle’s Korner for Kids, the community outreach established in 2011 by former Cards’ forward Kyle Kuric while a UofL student. About 2,000 toys have been donated annually by Cardinal fans at similar collections in previous years.

uofl toys
Kuric, who has been playing basketball for Herbalife Gran Canaria in Spain for the past three seasons, helped the Cardinals reach the 2012 Final Four as a senior.

For those who wish to contribute a toy to the drive and cannot attend the Dec. 17 game, toys may be dropped at the UofL Athletics offices on the second floor of the Swain Student Activities Center located at 2100 South Floyd Street. Toys will be accepted weekdays between 9 a.m. and 5 p.m. through Dec. 16.

The post Toys Collected at Dec. 17 Men’s Basketball Game at LouisvilleKy’s KFC Yum! Center appeared first on Louisville KY.

UK Digitizes History Of Economic Development In Eastern Kentucky Monday, Aug 1 2016 

Researchers, reporters and railroad fanatics are among those who may be interested in the University of Kentucky’s new digital collection, the Coal, Camps and Railroads project.  

The archive chronicles economic development of Kentucky’s Appalachian region from 1788 to 1976. Digitizing the archive resulted in about 233,000 scans and takes up around 5.5 terabytes of space. The project took three years to complete.

The project, which was granted just over $278,000 from the National Endowment for the Humanities, includes photographs, maps, evidence of land disputes, and company records on accidents. The collection is free on the ExploreUK digital library.

Ashland ad for Ashland Improvement company from the Louisville Courier-JournalUniversity of Kentucky Special Collections Research Center

Ashland ad for Ashland Improvement company from the Louisville Courier-Journal.

“Most of these collections are documenting the perspective of the companies, the different organizations who developed efforts to extract natural resources like coal and gas and oil,” says Sarah Dorpinghaus, director of Digital Services at UK’s Special Collections Research Center. “And also companies who came in and built railroads and established towns in order to support this extraction work and get these materials shipped out across the country.”

Records from companies such as the Louisville and Nashville Railroad Company and Benham Coal Company are in the collection. Dorpinghaus says she was amazed by the record-keeping over the years. Examples include compensation claims. At times, a person’s livelihood was harmed by the company’s equipment.

“You have people out there who have cattle, who have animals that are free ranging, and sometimes they get hit by trains,” says Dorpinghaus. People would write to the company to request remuneration.

Compensation Does Not Pay! illustration.University of Kentucky Special Collections Research Center

Compensation Does Not Pay! illustration.

If put in a line of boxes, the original collection measured 140 cubic feet long. Dorpinghaus says the goal of digitizing the collection was to give the public a glimpse into the unique history of the region.

“And digitizing them and putting them online also allows them to be more searchable and more discoverable,” she says.

The archival industry in general, she says, has a good handle on preservation. But it still struggles with mass digitization. Dorpinghaus says she’s seen more interest in archival materials from the public. Digital archives expands reach beyond local communities particularly collections of national value, she says.