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Amazon gives surprising second life to decrepit coal mine: 'This project is a prime example of the opportunity we have to decarbonize our economy'

"The solar panels can service the surrounding community quite easily."

“The solar panels can service the surrounding community quite easily.”

Photo Credit: iStock

In November, Amazon came closer to using 100% renewable energy by adding two renewable energy projects to its solar and wind portfolio.

The Maryland investment — which includes a 120-year-old coal mine — upped the company's new solar and wind projects in 2023 to 78 and its global total to 479, Solar Power World reported. Amazon has been criticized for a less-than-stellar record on sustainability overall and even reportedly tried to prevent an emissions bill in Oregon, but the company has been the largest corporate purchaser of renewable energy since 2020 and says it has powered 90% of its operations with renewable energy since 2022.

The recently closed Arch Coal mine in Garrett County will become the largest solar farm in the state with 300,000 panels. It will employ 200 workers during peak construction and will be called Amazon Solar Farm Maryland — CPV Backbone after Backbone Mountain, the Old Line State's highest point.

CNBC reported that the site was "particularly attractive" because of its access to energy interconnection and substations.

"Creating this related infrastructure is often the biggest roadblock to new clean energy projects," Diana Olick wrote. "The solar panels can service the surrounding community quite easily."

The project is Amazon's first built on a former brownfield, or land contaminated by hazardous substances, according to Solar Power World. It was developed in part with $200 million from Competitive Power Ventures and is slated for completion by the end of 2024, CNBC noted.

"This project is a prime example of the opportunity we have to decarbonize our economy while repurposing brownfield sites and providing economic benefits and clean energy to our host communities," Sean Finnerty, CPV executive vice president of renewable power, told Solar Power World.

The mine had to be cleaned of more than 450,000 cubic yards of coal waste and will keep 133,000 pounds of carbon dioxide pollution out of the atmosphere each year.

"The [solar panels] don't get plugged into a data center or an Amazon fulfillment center or a home," Nat Sahlstrom, Amazon Web Services head of energy, water, and sustainability, told CNBC. "They get plugged into a substation and into the grid, so we're making the grid cleaner. Our investments are helping power our operations and making the entire grid greener."

In addition to improving and protecting the environment, cleaning up and reinvesting in brownfields increases local tax bases, creates jobs, uses existing infrastructure, and removes pressure to develop undeveloped properties, according to the Environmental Protection Agency, which estimates there are more than 450,000 such sites in the United States.

Amazon's other project in the state is one of its first agrovoltaic solar ventures. Amazon Solar Farm Maryland — Morgnec will feature bifacial panels to absorb the sun's energy and allow crops to grow underneath — and sheep to control vegetation. The retail behemoth says it will power AWS data centers, fulfillment centers, stores, and offices with 100% renewable energy by 2025.

With nearly 500 solar and wind projects, Amazon will generate 71,900 gigawatt-hours of clean energy annually, which could power 6.7 million homes.

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