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Barnes: From brownfields to ‘brightfields’ in Virginia’s coal country

Barnes is New Economy Program Manager for Appalachian Voices. She is based in Norton.

On a clear day, from the perch of Flag Rock Overlook in Southwest Virginia, you can take in the view of the city of Norton and miles and miles of mountain ridges. The thousands of acres of former surface mines also visible from this vista illustrate the legacy of coal, and present environmental challenges for surrounding communities in a region grappling with high unemployment rates, declining populations, and an opioid epidemic.

After more than 100 years of mining, it’s clear coal is not coming back to Appalachia as the economic force it once was. The need to fully restore and reclaim these mountain mine lands has never been greater. As the nation’s energy landscape continues rapidly shifting, we could give these mines new life with clean energy technology, spurring job growth and giving our region new hope for a bright future in the 21st century.

This was the prevailing topic of conversation at the “Brightfields 2019” conference, sponsored by Brownfield Listings LLC, in Richmond in April, where landowners, government agencies, and solar developers discussed the promise of building solar energy projects on brownfields throughout the region, including formerly mined lands. It’s a great visual and a great idea: put these overlooked land resources to use for local communities as electricity producers and job providers with a shining symbol of the changing energy economy.

To learn more, check out the whole article below.