Like other Appalachian states, Kentucky’s coal and utility industry is in a period of transition. Environmental regulations, declining reserves and market conditions are making coal more expensive to mine and burn. Over the past six years, the number of coal miners in the eastern part of the state has been cut in half. Several of Kentucky’s large, aging coal-fired power plants have announced their plans to retire or switch to natural gas.
Across an ocean, in Germany, is a coal-producing country also undergoing a transition. But this one is voluntary — buoyed by policies that support renewable energy and planned phase-outs of the country’s nuclear plants and coal mines. So far, Germany is on track to meet aggressive renewable energy goals, but is having a hard time moving entirely away from fossil fuels.
While Kentucky isn’t yet embracing the inevitable economic and energy transition caused by the coal industry’s decline, the German Energiewende may offer some ideas for the state’s future. I spent a week in the country earlier this fall, with support from a fellowship from the Heinrick Böll Foundation, to figure out what practical advice Germany could offer Kentucky as it begins a transition of its own.
This story was originally published on December 7, 2015.