An old Kentucky coal mine will soon be turned into a pumped hydro “water battery” in an ambitious renewable clean energy scheme. Hydropower developer Rye Development is transforming a strip mine in southeastern Kentucky’s Bell County into the Lewis Ridge pumped storage project.
While a lithium-ion battery holds power for a few hours, pumped hydro storage can hold energy long-term. It works by pumping water uphill to a reservoir during low-demand times, then releasing it downhill to run turbines when electricity needs are high. Open systems release stored water one way into the local waterway. Closed-loop systems, such as Lewis Ridge, recycle the water endless times.
Rye Development projects $1 billion in investor dollars coming into Bell County, and three to five years’ worth of decently paid construction jobs for 2,000 workers. After that, “several dozen direct and indirect family-wage jobs” will remain in the county permanently.
“The Lewis Ridge pumped storage project is located adjacent to the Cumberland River near the communities of Blackmont, Tejay, Balkan and Callaway, Kentucky,” Rye Development stated in a press release. “The project site sits on a former coal strip mine in an active coal mining area. As coal is phased out of the grid across the nation, coal communities face uncertain employment and economic futures. Projects like Lewis Ridge create new jobs and economic activity in energy communities.”
Pumping all that water uphill will take a lot of energy. The idea is to use wind and solar to operate the pumps. Currently, Kentucky ranks 50th on the wind energy scale for the U.S. and 47th in solar. So, the Bluegrass state has a long way to go to fulfill its green future.
As coal phases out, it’s been a challenge to figure out how to repurpose old coal sites for renewable energy. Many strip mines are located far from towns and cities where people can put that energy to good use. Rye Development said its chosen site is “unique and features beneficial topography and proximity to transmission infrastructure.”
Lead image via Rye Development