Recent data highlights the urgent need to diversify Southeastern Kentucky’s approach to energy generation and storage.
For example, PJM retired 6 gigawatts of electricity generation in 2022, with a staggering 89% coming from coal-fired power plants. Considering PJM manages wholesale electricity across 13 states and the District of Columbia, including a portion of Eastern Kentucky, these actions have significant implications for our region’s energy future.
Coal-generated power is our region’s legacy source of electricity, capable of producing power 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. With the forecasted closure of many more coal plants, local utilities will need to adopt new ways to reliably and affordably generate and store power to prevent outages.
In Bell County, the proposed Lewis Ridge Pumped Storage Project offers a secure solution to our energy supply and storage needs. It would provide the adjacent communities with thousands of good-paying jobs and increased tax revenue.
Located at the site of a former coal mine on land owned by Asher Land & Mineral, the $1.5 billion project will act as a giant water battery that stores and deploys energy when we need it most. Marking a new era of economic innovation, the Lewis Ridge project will repurpose land that fueled the industrial revolution to benefit residents and the business community.
In July, we introduced Rye Development, the company behind the Lewis Ridge project. In this post, we delve into the role of large-scale energy storage in our power system. We will explore how it fulfills its promises of reliable, affordable power and economic development in Southeastern Kentucky.
What is the role of large-scale storage in our energy system?
Baseload power requires a stable supply of energy, and the sources generating baseload power generally run all day and night. Historically, Southeastern Kentucky has relied on a mix of coal, nuclear, and natural gas for its baseload power. When excess baseload energy cannot be consumed, it goes to waste. The money is spent, the pollution is emitted, and consumers shoulder that cost.
Solar and wind represent an increasing share of the PJM energy generation portfolio, and these power sources function a bit differently. Solar panels can’t produce energy when it’s dark. Turbines can’t produce energy when wind conditions aren’t sufficient. On the flip side, when the weather is bright and windy, these sources may produce more than enough to meet demand. Unless paired with energy storage, the power generated may go to waste.
There are many types of energy storage, including lithium-ion batteries, which store power for short periods, typically up to 4 hours. When seeking greater flexibility, pumped storage hydropower is a valuable solution, contributing 93% of the nation’s utility-scale storage. These facilities can store energy for 8 hours or more. They also cost 20-30% less than installed lithium-ion batteries.
Check out this video to see how pumped storage hydropower works.
More than 40 pumped storage projects are operating in the U.S., with several more in development, including the Lewis Ridge project in Southeastern Kentucky.
The Lewis Ridge project will provide reliable, affordable energy storage for up to 8 hours per day and enough energy to power about 67,000 homes annually.1 Pumped storage facilities are resilient during extreme weather events, which are becoming more frequent, highlighting the need for additional capacity in the electric utility industry.
What benefits will the Lewis Ridge Pumped Storage Project bring to Kentucky?
The Lewis Ridge Project, built to last a century or more, builds upon the region’s legacy and skilled workforce. Long-duration energy storage infrastructure is key to our future, promising to benefit local businesses and create jobs for 1,500 skilled workers in various trades during its 4-5-year construction period.
The project site, formerly used for coal mining and timber harvesting, will be given a new, important purpose, says Michael Gambrel, general manager of Asher Land & Mineral. “Within five to 10 years, all of the mineable coal will be gone from the site. This project would be a great reuse of that property. The Lewis Ridge Pumped Storage Project will be there for years and years, as will Asher Land. It’s a win-win because this type of power generation does not generate waste.”
“Projects like this are exciting,” says Joshua Ball, chief operating officer of SOAR. “The same ingenuity that extracted coal from the mountains is building a new energy sector.”
Stay apprised as these opportunities continue to be explored in Eastern Kentucky. Learn more about the Lewis Ridge Pumped Storage Project by watching this video that debuted during the 2023 SOAR Summit.
1 Average annual electricity consumption for a U.S. home is about 10,000 kilowatt-hours (kWh) annually. 670,000/10,000 = 67,000 homes