A new collaboration between two renewable energy companies and The Nature Conservancy (TNC) will pursue the development of some of the first utility-scale solar projects in the Central Appalachian coalfields. Accordingly, Virginia-based Sun Tribe, Washington, D.C.-based Sol Systems, and TNC will conduct the development of solar systems on former coal mines in the area.
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Sun Tribe and Sol Systems: key partners to advance TNC’s sustainable community goals in Central Appalachia
In fact, Sun Tribe and Sol Systems will develop the projects to continue TNC’s goal of supporting local economies. Particularly, achieving this through conservation, investment, and engagement.
Thus, the projects will be developed within the Cumberland Forest Project, which is nearly 253,000 acres of land in Southwest Virginia. It also covers areas within Eastern Tennesse and Eastern Kentucky. In fact, TNC manages those areas, and Cumberland Forest, LP impact investment fund, owns them.
Accordingly, the Cumberland Forest Project looks to protect and restore globally critical Appalachian forests. In fact, those forests are some of the most essential areas for climate resiliency in North America.
The collaboration process
In early 2020, with assistance from the Virginia Department of Mines, Minerals, and Energy, TNC identified non-forested former mined lands candidates for solar development on the Cumberland Forest property. The company particularly targeted lands in proximity to existing utility lines and infrastructure.
After that, TNC’s scientists conducted additional analyses on wildlife values, natural habitats, or other characteristics. Then, after selecting the ideal areas, TNC engaged the private sector, seeking proposals from various solar developers. There, Sun Tribe and Sol Systems came into the scene.
Finally, after a nine-month process, Sun Tribe was selected to be the Cumberland Forest LP’s first project developer; with Sol Systems selected to finance, own, and operate the facilities.
Through this collaboration, TNC aims to advance its pathway to protecting and restoring native forests. Notably, the initial focus area for cooperating with Sun Tribe and Sol Systems will center on Wise County in Southwest Virginia.
Moreover, the Cumberland Forest Project demonstrates that investments in nature can yield financial returns and critical conservation results. In fact, all of this, while returning value to local communities.
This is especially important for the Central Appalachian region since currently, there is a profound energy transition underway.
Reception from the parties
“Southwest Virginia and the wider Central Appalachian coalfield region is uniquely positioned to support the expansion of renewable energy development. Particularly, with hundreds of reclaimed former surface mines potentially capable of being converted to new solar projects;” says Brad Kreps, Director of TNC’s Clinch Valley Program.
Indeed, “at this point, the region’s former mined lands are nearly a blank canvas when it comes to building a new renewable energy economy. Therefore, with this partnership, we hope to demonstrate how some of these former mining sites can be competitive for solar development in Virginia and throughout the Central Appalachian region,” said Mr. Kreps.
Similarly, Danny Van Clief, CEO of Sun Tribe Development, declared; “We’re a proud Virginia-based company, and we’re looking forward to working with communities throughout this region. Notably, to show that solar can provide real environmental, social, and economic benefits for those who call Central Appalachia home.”
Thus, “we are focused on an approach that combines a conservation focus, comprehensive scale; Besides, an intense focus on local community investment. So, turning this vision into reality will mean that these former coal mines can continue to serve (communities) for generations to come in a bright future.”
Finally, Yuri Horwitz, CEO and co-founder of Sol Systems, said; In fact, “this collaboration highlights Sol Systems’ mission to pair new solar energy infrastructure investment with concrete and scalable community, sustainability, and environmental impact.”