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Old coal mine being revamped into $1.3B hydropower facility

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(The Center Square) – Bell County in Kentucky is getting a $1.3 billion “clean energy” hydropower facility along the Cumberland River.

Officials led by Gov. Andy Beshear said Thursday it is the largest economic development in eastern Kentucky. They say it will create more than 1,500 jobs over the next decade during construction; once complete, the plant will employ about 30 full-time workers.

Rye Development proposes to build a pumped storage project on a former coal mine site next to the river. While such plants are common across the country and store electricity for when it’s needed, Rye CEO Paul Jacob said the project marks the first time such a plant would be built at a former coal mine.

Once complete, which should take between seven to 10 years, it will be able to provide up to eight hours of power to supplement existing supplies during times of peak usage, such as during or after extreme weather events.

“This project is not only a significant investment in Kentucky; it’s an investment in strengthening our national electricity grid, helping to secure our energy future,” Jacob said. “The Lewis Ridge Pumped Storage Project will protect against blackouts and brownouts while transforming a former mining site into a long-term economic engine for the region.”

The U.S. Department of Energy said a grant of up to $81 million will help with construction. The funding comes from the $1.2 trillion Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act of 2021. The project has the backing of Kentucky politicians on the federal, state and local levels, labor unioins and the region’s innovation hub.

“It will impact Knox County, Harlan County, Clay County, Whitley County, a lot of counties in and around the area,” Senate President Robert Stivers, R-Manchester, said during Beshear’s weekly press briefing. “It is a regional transformational project.”

Beshear said the state’s community and technical college system will work together to create job training and apprenticeship programs to prepare area residents for construction positions.

Jacob said he expects the facility to be viable for up to 100 years.

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