Duke Energy, one of the country's largest coal utilities, announced Friday that it will build three large solar power plants in the coal mining state of Kentucky to complement its coal and natural gas power plants.
"Our customers want solar," said Jim Henning, president of Duke Energy's Ohio and Kentucky division, in announcing the new solar power projects.
The three projects will include 19,000 solar panels spread across 170 acres in Kenton and Grant counties.
Henning explained that it's the "right time" to build solar because the cost "has come down significantly in recent years, making it more cost-competitive with other sources of power generation." In addition, solar "gives us the ability to add power capacity in incremental steps – allowing us to match the growing demand for electricity in the region."
Kentucky is the home of Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, who led the charge to resist climate regulations that would harm the miners in his state and other parts of coal country. President Trump won in Kentucky, Ohio and West Virginia based on his campaign promise to restore coal jobs, while his Democratic rival Hillary Clinton vowed to close the mines and retrain the region's workers for solar energy jobs.
The Trump administration has vowed to build "clean coal" power plants, but the carbon capture technology required is not commercially available, especially with low natural gas prices and more renewable energy being built.
Lynn Good, Duke Energy's president and CEO, has said that the company plans to continue to close coal power plants in favor of building more natural gas and renewable power plants, despite Trump's promise to coal country. "We have to look through the changes of administration," she said in April. "Our strategy will continue to be to drive carbon out of our business."
Henning said Friday that the Kentucky solar plants underscore the company's long-term vision. The company's electricity business serves six states from the Southwest to the Midwest. In the last decade, its experience in renewable energy has made it one of the nation's five largest renewable energy companies, investing more than $5 billion in renewable energy. However, it still owns a big chunk of the nation's coal-fired power plants, which the company is shuttering or converting to natural gas.
The utility-scale solar plants in Kentucky will total about 6.8 megawatts of electricity, "which, at peak production, can provide electricity for about 1,300 average-sized homes," the company said. Duke Energy plans to start construction this summer, and the projects completed by the end of 2017.
The solar power plants will be used in conjunction with the company's existing fossil fuel power plants.
The three new renewable plants "will help diversify and complement Duke Energy Kentucky's existing power generation fleet, which includes a 650-megawatt coal-fired plant that typically runs 24/7 and a 500-megawatt gas-fired facility that the company activates when power demand is high – like on hot summer afternoons," it said.