My Cold Kentucky Home: Coal Country Turning To Solar As Heating And Housing Costs Climb

By Sydney Boles

Joe Oliver and Tony Brown peered into the dark crawl space beneath a Letcher County, Kentucky, home. Already, they could see problems. The crawl space had been blocked off with just a thin sheet of plywood; the posts supporting the house rested on uneven blobs of poured concrete; the whole place reeked of mold. 

A gas leak detector beeped urgently at the meeting of two pipes.

Crawling on elbows and knees, ducking to avoid exposed pipes, Oliver and Brown found flood damage, poor ductwork, and one very large spider.

Later, the pair hauled themselves into the homeowner’s attic, appalled at the poor craftsmanship. A flimsy internal door was all that stood between insulated space and an unsealed attic. This homeowner was likely wasting a huge amount of electricity.

Read more…

Appalshop approaches 50, unveils largest net-metered solar project in Eastern Kentucky

By Will Wright

Fifty years ago, a Yale-educated architect named Bill Richardson was on his honeymoon, paddling a rowboat in Maine’s Audubon Nature Preserve with his wife Josephine, when he asked her if she wanted to move to Eastern Kentucky. 

A job in Letcher County with the Office of Economic Opportunity promised at least a short stint of interesting work: training young Appalachians in the art of film-making. 

Today, the Richardsons’ project, now called Appalshop, is approaching its 50th year, and on Friday plans to unveil the largest net-metered solar project in Eastern Kentucky. Starting in the fall, and throughout 2020, Appalshop will host a series of events celebrating its anniversary. 

The solar project is one example of how Appalshop has grown over the years from a work-training program focused on film-making, to a conglomerate of media and community development projects including the solar initiative and a rural-urban exchange program…

Through the Letcher County Culture Hub, an Appalshop community-development network, the group will also install three solar projects with the Hemphill Community Center, the King’s Creek Volunteer Fire Department and HOMES, Inc. Read more…

Investing Half a Million Dollars Toward Solar in Letcher County

By Ariel Fugate

Over the past several months, we have been working with four organizations in Letcher County to study and finance installation of solar on their buildings in 2019. 

The four community-led organizations in Letcher County include Hemphill Community Center, Kings Creek Volunteer Fire Department, Housing Oriented Ministries Established for Service, Inc. (HOMES, Inc.), and Appalshop. With utility rates on the rise in Eastern Kentucky, the solar installations support the sustainment of each organization’s critical mission to provide resources to Eastern Kentuckians. 

John Craft, MACED’s New Energy intern, pictured with two HOMES Inc employees on February 26 as they prepare the building for panel install.

This solar system will be tied into the electric grid under Kentucky’s 2008 net metering statute. Because of that, it is anticipated that the costs of the project at HOMES’ will be recovered within 10 years. 

Executive Director Seth Long says the solar project is a key part of their efforts to build a brighter future in the region. 

The organizations are part of the Letcher County Culture Hub, a growing network of community-led organizations in Letcher County who work together to create new opportunities. The Hub has worked together to bring solar to Letcher County, collaborating to get bids from potential installers, learn about financing options, and execute projects. HOMES Inc is the first to execute their project and installation began on February 26.  Read more…

Kentucky Communities Unlock their Cultural Wealth to Lead the Way Forward

By Abbie Langston and Lorrie Chang

Letcher County, Kentucky is at the very heart of Appalachia, a region as rich in history and culture as in natural resources. Over the last 10 years, the county has lost more than 90 percent of coal jobs that had sustained its economy. About 98 percent of residents are White and 80 percent voted for Donald Trump in 2016.

At first glance, this rural area might seem to have little in common with diverse urban centers like Detroit and Pittsburgh. But the challenge of advancing a just economic transition in coal country is not dissimilar  with the challenge of building an equitable economy in metropolitan regions once dominated by steel, automotive, or other manufacturing sectors.

Like these cities and other “company towns,” Eastern Kentucky citizens once drew their lifeblood from a single industry, and now face the challenge of charting a new economy. One resident likened coal’s hold to addiction. The coal companies proclaimed, “you mine the coal and we’ll take care of you,” she explained. When coal collapsed, this dependency left communities in fear and desperation. So it’s no surprise that many residents have welcomed the prospect of a proposed federal prison as another economic anchor to fill the void.

But across the political spectrum, a consensus is building that Letcher County’s future cannot depend solely on one company or industry. A group of community-led organizations have formed the Letcher County Culture Hub, a network designed to foster and develop residents’s agency and assets, and build on the strength of its own rich cultural wealth. Today the growing list of partners include volunteer fire departments, businesses, community centers, and artist and cultural organizations collaborating with elected officials and other local, regional, and national organizations. Partners bring together resources and work in consensus to pursue common goals including reviving cultural events like the region’s bluegrass festival, founding new social enterprises including one that employs formerly incarcerated people, and expanding opportunity such as broadband Internet.

The Letcher County Culture Hub is also a part of the Arts, Culture, Equitable Development Initiative, generously supported by The Kresge Foundation, for PolicyLink to expand the impact of six community based organizations across the US in equitable development and policy change through arts and culture. Read more…

Economic Diversification & Letcher Co. Culture Hub

Host Kelli Haywood discusses small town economics with a group of politically diverse members of the local community – Harry Collins of CANE, Betsy Whaley of MACED, and Ben Fink of Appalshop and the Letcher Co. Culture Hub. What does it take to transition the economy of a small coalfields community? Economic diversity. But, why are some residents wary of diversification of business and the entrepreneurial spirit? Can arts and cultural play a critical role in that economic diversification? The group discusses these topics and much more. Listen…

Letcher County Effort Finds Way To Bridge Divides

In America, where the political divide has reached Grand Canyon proportions, one Kentucky county is trying to build deep community relationships to overcome these differences.

It’s happening in Letcher County, where 80-percent of the residents voted for Donald Trump. It is known as the Letcher County Culture Hub and Ben Fink, who has been heavily involved in the effort, believes it can be a model for other communities. He says divisions are “never absolute,” and can be bridged through culture on two levels. Listen…

Meet the Entrepreneurs Creating an Arts and Culture-Based Economy in Post-Coal Appalachia

Last November, voters in Kentucky expressed confidence that President Trump could deliver on his promise to revive the coal industry, and he carried the state with 62 percent of votes. But in the heart of Appalachia, there's a strong network of businesses and nonprofits that are looking beyond coal, and embracing equity-focused regional economic development for marginalized communities — creating employment opportunities in technology and innovation, and arts and culture, as even more promising growth industries for the region. Read more…

Neighbors Work To Revive An Appalachian Community

What role can a community center play in increasing residents’ well being and encouraging efforts to reimagine and revitalize the local economy? That’s the question WMMT Reporter Kelli Haywood was asking when she visited Hemphill, KY, a former coal company town, where a group of volunteers are working to bring people together and add some liveliness into their community. Keeping its doors open in order to serve its mission of providing low cost, family friendly entertainment and educational opportunities to the community has not been easy. But through its participation in the Letcher County Culture Hub, a collaboration led by Appalshop, Hemphill and other community centers, public and private organizations, and local businesses are coming together to strengthen Letcher County’s cultural assets and identify ways to use them to grow the economy. Listen…

Appalachian Culture as Hub for Growth

Can artists, dancers, actors, musicians and creative thinkers of all varieties contribute to the economic rebuilding of our Appalachian communities?  WMMT’s Kelli Haywood looked for answers to that question as she visited the 15th annual Cowan Creek Mountain Music School at the Cowan Community Center. The Center is one partner in a creative placemaking effort led by Appalshop called the Letcher County Culture Hub.  Organizations and individuals throughout the county are bringing together arts, culture, and business enterprise to establish a more diversified economy and communities that are healthy, happy, and whole. Listen…

A Kentucky County Is Working To Transition Their Economic Base From Coal To Culture

Solar energy added 73,615 new jobs to the U.S. economy in 2016, and wind energy added an additional 24,650. That same year, more Americans were employed by
by solar alone, than were in generating electricity via coal, gas and oil energy combined.

According to the U.S. Department of Energy, solar employed 43 percent of the Electric Power Generation sector’s workforce in 2016, while fossil fuels combined accounted for just 22 percent.

Just under 374,000 people were employed in solar energy, according to that report, while coal, gas and oil power generation combined had a workforce of slightly more than 187,000. Net power generation from coal fell 53% over the last decade, while generation from natural gas increased 33 percent, and solar grew 5000%. Read more…