Solar in Coal Communities: Interview with Secure Solar Futures

MEET Matthew mcfadden

Matthew McFadden, Business Development Manager

Hailing from Wise, Virginia, our very own business development manager, Matt McFadden, knows the ins and outs of a small rural community that has historically depended on coal.

Originally, he planned to follow family members and friends into the mining industry. But a series of career twists combined with a desire to better his community brought him a couple years ago to Secure Solar Futures and to solar power.

Recently, Matt talked to Grist, America’s leading online environmental magazine, about his experience growing up in a coal community that he now helps lead into a clean energy future.

With 7 coal-producing counties, Southwest Virginia is ranked #4 most coal-dependent economy in the U.S. Funding from the Inflation Reduction Act has helped this area, and others like it, access opportunities to install renewable energy and create new jobs. But it takes local roots to earn the trust of neighbors in communities that long relied on coal for jobs and so much more.

How much more? Just ask Emma Kelly, who also lives in the region and also advocates for solar from her perch at the Solar Workgroup of Southwest Virginia.

Emma grew up in eastern Kentucky and now lives in southwestern Virginia. “You have to understand. Coal mining is not just a job. The coal industry is not just an employer. It’s not like Walmart. [Coal companies] built towns, they built schools, they built churches, they made their own money. You cannot really overestimate the amount of domination they had over these social and economic systems.”

Because residents of southwest Virginia may see solar as helping accelerate the loss of coal jobs, according to Grist, Emma and Matt consider their being locals an important component of building trust for solar in the region. 

Recently, Matt has helped schools and colleges in coalfield communities in both Virginia and West Virginia to get incentive grants from the Coalfield Solar Fund, an initiative created in partnership with the global financial technology company Intuit and the National Energy Education Development Project and Secure Solar Futures. The Coalfield Solar Fund includes educational programs for students in these areas, including a work-based learning experience where students can earn a competitive wage while installing solar panels on their schools. The program also offers students the opportunity to earn credits through a local community college. 

Meanwhile, Matt takes pride in the solar array that was installed at his daughter’s elementary school. As he told Grist, “I know this is the future. I know this is where we need to go, and it will help create jobs.”

Written by: Staff Author