Kentucky, long a state where coal was as ubiquitous as bourbon and horses, is increasingly turning toward other energy sources, including solar, as its manufacturing base pushes for more sustainable power to drive its business.
Coal still accounted for 73% of Kentucky's power generation in 2019 — the fourth-highest share behind West Virginia, Wyoming and Missouri — according to preliminary data reported to the U.S. Energy Information Administration. But solar energy is making substantial gains as coal plant retirements continue to limit the options for burning coal in the state. Coal has long been controversial for its emissions, but increasingly, more businesses are specifically seeking out renewable resources as they become less costly and pressure mounts to act on climate change.
Mary Anne Hitt is the director of the Sierra Club's Beyond Coal campaign, a driving force that alongside economic conditions is contributing to accelerated coal plant closures. Hitt said solar beginning to out-compete coal in a place like Kentucky is an indicator of the profound shift in energy economics that has occurred across the U.S.
"Whether it's political structures or the market structures, there are some rules of the game that are written in favor of coal," Hitt said. "But even that sort of fortress of protection that the industry has enjoyed for a long time is starting to crack as renewables become so competitive."