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Solar Farming Spreads to Appalachia

Ohio has reached a Turning Point with a solar-energy project that uses land that once was home to a strip mine.
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Nearly 40 years ago, it was a strip mine used by the Central Ohio Coal Company. Now, 500 acres of land adjacent to The Wilds conservation park is set to house a $250 million, 49.9-megawatt solar array.

"We recognized the future when we established our state's aggressive renewable portfolio standard, invested in the energy industry and eliminated taxes for new energy facilities to create jobs and grow Ohio's advanced energy industry," said Ohio Gov. Ted Strickland, nodding to an executive order he signed in September.

"Today," he announced on Oct. 5, "the future has recognized Ohio."

Placing land-hungry solar generation facilities on swaths of land already roughed up by mining is increasingly common in the Western United States, especially the sun-blessed Southwest, as our David Rosenfeld reported recently. "Existing transmission lines, available water and roads capable of supporting wide, heavy loads provide ready-made infrastructure," he wrote. "And reclaiming land that's already been disturbed will reduce permitting costs."

This Turning Point Solar project, however, is in Appalachia, known more for its coal mining detritus and less for its renewable energy portfolio. In Turning Point's case, there was disturbed land aplenty: It's going in on a mining site created by Big Muskie, one of the biggest mining machines ever created. Twice as much earth reportedly was removed for this mine than occurred during the building of the Panama Canal.

Turning Point also hosts another superlative: Backers say it would be the largest photovoltaic solar farm in the United States. In addition, prairie planting tests are currently being conducted in hopes that the fallow land under the solar panels into an organic carbon sink.

It also includes a manufacturing component — expected to provide more than 300 permanent manufacturing jobs — not included in most Western plans.

Pending approval by the state and local governments, two solar power manufacturers from Spain, Prius Energy and Isofoton, have agreed to open new manufacturing facilities to help construct Turning Point's 239,400-panel solar array.

Turning Point Solar's project developers, New Harvest Ventures and Agile Energy entered into a 20-year purchase agreement for the facility's power with American Electric Power.