Renewable Energy: A Key National and International Leadership Opportunity for Kentucky

Renewable Energy: A Key National and International Leadership Opportunity for Kentucky

By Lyle D. Roelofs, Berea College President

Kentucky is on its way to becoming a place of renewable energy leadership. Berea College, through its own initiatives in hydroelectric power and sustainable campus operations, and more recently through connections with Lexington-based Edelen Renewables, is very much part of that story. And this Kentucky story even has a connection to the tiny country of Moldova in Central Europe.

As a kid growing up in Moldova, Eduard ’23 was inspired by his parents, who told him he would do something big one day. He believed them and believed in himself and dreamed of doing good in the world. He got involved with leadership camps and the American consulate, where he met Peace Corps volunteers. One of those volunteers told him about Berea College.

A few short years later, this year in fact, the political science and economics major needed to select a capstone project to complete his academic requirements.  Energy security and renewables are very relevant to European politics. Russia’s invasion of Moldova’s neighbor, Ukraine, was made possible by its control of European fossil fuels. For Eduard, that inspired a career interest in the renewable energy sector, and he chose that topic for his capstone project.

Eduard had also taken an interest in Appalachia, where the mountainous landscape, the economic situation, the people and the history of coal dependence reminded him of home. His interests converged thanks to his work assignment in the College’s Office of Internships and Career Development, where he met Adam Edelen, former Kentucky Auditor of Public Accounts and founder and CEO of Edelen Renewables, a company focused on bringing green energy to struggling communities like eastern Kentucky and other “forgotten places of America,” such as the Permian Basin.

Edelen’s Social Impact Solar® initiative is driven by a dream to bring renewable energy to coal country, to repurpose coal mine lands, create jobs for displaced coal miners and others affected by the mono-economy of fossil fuels. The initiative is cooperative and boots-on-the-ground, a unique approach to acquiring land, encouraging public conversation, navigating government regulations and partnering with corporations to help fight climate change.

Edelen joined Kiran Bhatraju, founder of climate-crisis-fighting technology company Arcadia, board member at environmentally friendly farming company AppHarvest and eastern Kentucky native, for a large-group discussion at Berea’s convocation series.

Intrigued, Eduard reviewed Edelen’s materials, which sparked a new idea. Working with internship director Esther Livingston, he and two other Berea students became the charter interns at Edelen Renewables this summer. There, Eduard is excited to acquire the knowledge, skills and experience that will contribute immensely to his future career.

The story of Berea College, Edelen Renewables, Arcadia, Kentucky and Moldova represents a harmony of five of Berea’s Eight Great Commitments: educational opportunity for low-income and marginalized students, the liberal arts, the kinship of all people, sustainable living and serving Appalachia and places like it.

It is proof positive that with a vision and the will to achieve it, our state and its people can become renewable energy leaders.