Don't look to the Kentucky Coal Mining Museum to bring coal back. The museum is installing solar panels on its roof, part of a project aimed at lowering the energy costs of one of the city's largest electric customers, the AP reports. It's also a symbol of the state's efforts to move away from coal as its primary energy source as more coal-fired power plants are replaced by natural gas. The state legislature recently lifted its decades-old ban on nuclear power. "It's a little ironic or coincidental that you are putting solar green energy on a coal museum," says Roger Noe, a former state representative who sponsored the legislation that created the coal museum. "Coal comes from nature, the sun rays come from nature, so it all works out to be a positive thing."
The museum is in Benham, once a coal camp town whose population peaked at about 3,000, according to 85-year-old Mayor Wanda Humphrey. Today, it has about 500 people, and Humphrey says she's the mayor because no one else wants the job. The museum, which opened in 1994 with the help of some state funding, houses relics from the state's coal-mining past, including items from the personal collection of "Coal Miner's Daughter" country singer Loretta Lynn. It's also the best place in town to get the most direct sunlight, which made it an ideal location for solar panels. "The people here are sort of in awe of this solar thing," Humphrey says. The Southeast Community and Technical College, which owns the museum, expects the solar panels to save between $8,000 and $10,000 a year on energy costs.