National Grid has begun construction of its 160MW Unbridled solar project in Kentucky, something unimaginable last decade in the coal-heavy Republican Party state that has resisted large grid-scale renewable energy development.

When online in 2024, Unbridled’s nameplate capacity will be 13 times larger than Louisville Gas and Electric’s EW Brown facility in Harrodsburg, believed to be the state’s biggest array.

“We’re both proud and excited to be constructing the largest solar renewable energy project in the state of Kentucky,” said Blake Nixon, president of National Grid Renewables, noting that Unbridled in the company’s first project there.

The array has a PPA with Big Rivers Electric Corporation. A request for more information about the contract tenor and project investment was sent by Recharge to National Grid.

Kentucky ranks 43rd among the 50 states with 172MW of solar capacity supplying less than one-half of one percent of its electricity. The state does not have a single operating utility-scale wind turbine. There are no state mandates or targets for renewables.

Coal has been sacrosanct in Kentucky for at least a century and retains strong allegiance in the Republican-dominated legislature. It is part of the state’s culture and the sector employs more than 5,000 people.

Still, production fell about 65% to 28.5 million tons in the past decade due to competition from cheaper and more environmentally friendly alternatives in other states that had been markets for Kentucky coal. At least 6,000 jobs have been lost.

Not surprisingly, coal provided 68% of the state’s grid-scale electricity in 2022, the third largest share of any state after West Virginia and Wyoming, according to the US Department of Energy.

Several aging coal-fired power plants are due for retirement and proposals to replace them with natural gas and solar are controversial.

The landmark US climate law signed by President Joe Biden in August 2022 makes available lucrative long-term federal tax credits that some solar developers want to employ for projects in Kentucky.

The state has numerous communities with former coal operations that could be suitable for solar projects. If sited there, they could be eligible for bonus tax credits.

About 3.3GW of solar capacity could be built in the state over the next five years, according to an optimistic Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA).