Green Technology

Nature Conservancy, Rivian, & BrightNight Collaborate To Transform Kentucky Coal Mine

Starfire Mine was once one of the largest coal mines in the United States. Thanks to a collaboration between The Nature Conservancy, Rivain, and BrightNight, it will soon be transformed into a renewable energy hub with a capacity of 800 MW — enough to power over 170,000 households. Once completed, the $1 billion project will be the largest renewable power project in Kentucky and one of the largest in the nation to be built on the site of a former coal mine.

As part of the Starfire project, BrightNight will construct a 20-mile long transmission line capable of handling enabling an additional 1 GW of electricity from renewable energy facilities that are expected to be built in the region in the future. Its industry leading efforts will serve as a model for future energy transformation projects nationwide as they demonstrate how engineering and commercial success can be achieved by renewable energy projects.

Many readers will not be familiar with BrightNight, so here’s a little more information about the company from the Starfire press release. It says it is the first global renewable integrated power company designed to provide utility and commercial and industrial customers with clean, dispatchable renewable power solutions.

“BrightNight works with customers across the U.S. and Asia Pacific to design, develop, and operate safe, reliable, large scale renewable power projects optimized to better manage the intermittent nature of renewable energy. Its deep customer engagement process, team of proven power experts, and industry-leading solutions enable customers to overcome challenging energy sustainability standards, rapidly changing grid dynamics, and the transition away from fossil fuel generation. ” That is the kind of company CleanTechnica readers want to hear more about.

The Starfire Renewable Energy Hub

Project development will take place over four phases. Phase 1 will begin in 2025. Rivian, which is committed to promoting clean, equitable, and electrified transportation, will purchase 100 MW of renewable power from Phase 1 through a power purchase agreement with BrightNight. That’s enough energy to power up to 450 million miles of renewable driving every year. The Nature Conservancy will purchase up to 2.5 MW of renewable energy credits to complement its onsite solar arrays and achieve clean power sustainability commitments.

The Nature Conservancy collaborated with Rivian to establish a rigorous competitive process for selecting a clean energy project that would accelerate an equitable, science based clean energy transition that will have a positive impact on climate, conservation, and communities, otherwise known as the “3Cs.”

As a result of that collaboration, BrightNight emerged as the chosen developer for the Starfire Renewable Energy Center. Rivian and The Nature Conservancy co-developed Power with Purpose, a public guide that describes this strategy along with tools and resources for industry leaders to use and adapt this approach to accelerate environmentally and socially driven clean energy projects.

Remarks From The Starfire Mine Announcement

The Starfire Mine Renewable Energy Hub is a big deal in the area, and an occasion for all the participants to say a few words. “Rivian is one of the most innovative and forward-thinking manufacturers in America, and we are proud that they have chosen BrightNight and the Starfire Renewable Energy Center to help achieve their sustainability goals. Together, we are transforming a coal mine, reinvesting in a region eager to continue its role as an energy leader, and demonstrating the incredible impact of corporate power procurement.” said Martin Hermann, CEO of BrightNight.

“Shifting our energy system to carbon neutrality goes beyond electrifying the roughly 1.5 billion vehicles in the global fleet,” said Rivian CEO RJ Scaringe. “We must also support the decarbonization of our energy infrastructure through the responsible deployment of renewable energy. We are thrilled to collaborate with organizations like The Nature Conservancy and BrightNight to bring Starfire to life and help create a scalable model for a modern grid that provides reliable, affordable, and carbon free energy for all.”

“Significant investments in infrastructure will be critical to solving the climate crisis, but how we invest is just as important as how much we invest: We need to ensure both people and the planet are central to these decisions, especially in communities like the Appalachians that have powered America for centuries and have tremendous natural resources,” said Jennifer Morris, CEO of The Nature Conservancy. “We are proud to collaborate with Rivian and BrightNight on this important project.”

Kentucky energy and environment secretary Rebecca Goodman was on hand at the ceremony announcing the Starfire Mine Renewable Energy Hub and expressed support for the project. She thanked BrightNight for its willingness to discuss pathways to assist in the development of the Olive Branch Community, a flood recovery housing program championed by Kentucky governor Beshear.

Engaging With The Local Community

The community, which is located just outside the site of the former Starfire mine, intends to obtain affordable electricity and improved resiliency for its residents. BrightNight and the Kentucky EEC are currently exploring ways the independent power producer can assist with energy delivery, expanded and improved road infrastructure, and engineering support.

There is a potential lesson here for other renewable energy projects that face local opposition. Too often, they bypass the communities where they are located to supply power to some server farm or a distant city. Every renewable energy project needs to benefit the local community. It’s not only good for those who live near those installations, it’s a smart business practice that can go a long way toward reducing NIMBY-related pushback. Everyone wants clean, renewable electricity, especially if it will help lower their monthly utility bills year after year.

Until Phase 1 construction begins, BrightNight, with the support of Rivian and The Nature Conservancy, is focused on engaging the local community early and often. BrightNight is determining community development priorities, procuring land needed for its extensive transmission line right of way and securing additional customers for the electricity from the Starfire Mine project.

It is also developing environmentally conscious site designs based on best available science, and monitoring for possible grid-related decisions that could accelerate project construction. Edelen, a Kentucky-based renewables developer, has been supporting BrightNight on the project by providing landowner and site development advisory services.

The Takeaway

There is no war on coal. There never was. New technologies replace old technologies all the time. It’s an essential part of the capitalist model. Projects like the Starfire Mine Renewable Energy hub not only supply clean power, they also help train those who were working in an old industry how to access jobs in new industries. Access to clean, renewable energy also attracts more businesses to the area. That makes them a win for local communities, for the nation, and the environment.

Not only that, they pave the way for other renewable energy projects in other communities. In this instance, success will breed more success — something the Earth desperately needs.


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