Solar can help ensure a just energy transition in former coal regions

Photo: SolarPOwer Europe

On 6 November 2018, at the 3rd Meeting of the European Commission’s Platform for Coal and Carbon-Intensive Regions in Transition, SolarPower Europe outlined how solar can help ensure a just energy transition in former coal regions in Europe.

James Watson, CEO of SolarPower Europe said “Across Europe former coal mines are being transformed into solar farms. This is hugely positive as solar can create new jobs, innovation and investments in these local communities, diversifying their local economies. In fact, a recent Joint Research Centre study
found solar to be particularly suitable for employing former coal workers and to help drive regional development. It is crucial that no regions or communities are left behind in the energy transition. Solar can play a massive part in ensuring a just transition for all.”

“Solar is ideal to place on former coal mine sites because the land is often no longer suitable for farming. Moreover, coal mines often leave behind large lakes with high levels of sulfate, these polluted lakes can easily be converted into floating solar farms. Solar presents a huge opportunity for new industry, jobs and as a source of clean, affordable energy in regions affected by the decline of coal. We look forward to working with the European Commission to further explore solar’s role in delivering a just transition in former coal regions,” said Watson.

Over the past few decades the production and consumption of coal in the EU has been in steady decline, due to the closure of coal mines and the phasing out of coal use for power generation. The Coal Regions in Transition Initiative is designed by the European Commission to help regions reap the benefits of the clean energy transition by bringing more focus to social fairness, better jobs, new skills, structural transformation, and financing for the real economy.

From coal mines to solar farms

In 2015, Hungarian power plant company Matrai Eromu, opened a solar power plant in Visonta in Hungary, which is situated on top of a lignite mine dump site and generates 16 megawatts of solar power.

Other 4-MW solar farm was built on the surface of a former coal mine in Saarland (Grube Warndt). The area was categorized as conversion area, which then was eligible under the German FiT at that time. This project dates back to 2012 and was developed by BayWa r.e.

Askern Solar Farm developed by Anesco comprises 18,768 solar modules equating to 5 MW. The application site is approximately 14.53 hectares in size and comprises part of the former Askern Colliery site which has a total site area of around 95 hectares

LRM was the owner of the sludge pond in Heusden-Zolder. When coal was being mined here, this was where rubble and fly ash were dumped. It was very difficult to find a suitable use for this site so LRM decided to transform the decontaminated land into a solar power plant -and so an ostensibly lost site acquired a new use.