Heroes

Solar energy is getting so cheap that even this coal museum is using it.

The move is symbolic of a lot of the progress made in green energy as of late.

Solar energy is getting so cheap that even this coal museum is using it.

Deep in the heart of coal country, a very unexpected business is going green.

The Kentucky Coal Mining Museum is adding solar panels to its building.

The museum, located in the southeast Kentucky town of Benham, aims to shine a light on the important role coal played (and continues to play) in meeting our energy needs — which makes it worth asking why it's moving away from its namesake fuel source to suit its own power needs.


The Kentucky Coal Mining Museum has 4 floors of non-stop history to keep you busy for hours! Located in Benham, KY.

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The answer is actually really simple: Solar is cheaper.

The irony certainly isn't lost on the museum's owners, but there's no denying that solar power just makes sense from a financial standpoint.  

Until recently, there was a trade-off when it came to choosing renewable energy. But clean-energy technology is becoming more efficient and less expensive every day, with the cost of solar energy coming in at less than half the cost of coal in some places. In December, Bloomberg reported on the stunning advances that have been made in just the past couple of years. Solar-panel technology has seen remarkable improvements in just the past year, finally becoming truly competitive with fossil fuels in terms of efficiency.

Photos by Dominick Reuter/AFP/Getty Images (left), Pablo Blazquez Dominguez/Getty Images.

"We believe that this project will help save at least $8,000 to $10,000 off the energy costs on this building alone," Brandon Robinson, communications director at Southeast Kentucky Community and Technical College, the group that owns the museum, told WYMT.

When it comes to adding solar panels to a museum about the coal industry, "It is a little ironic," Robinson admitted. "But you know, coal and solar and all the different energy sources work hand-in-hand. And, of course, coal is still king around here."

Between solar, wind, and especially natural gas, coal and oil have seen a major uptick in competition in recent years. The competitive cost of clean energy poses a challenge to President Trump, who campaigned on a platform of bringing jobs back to the coal industry.

It's not regulation that killed off coal mining jobs around the U.S. It's innovation, making Trump's promise to put miners back to work an empty one.

In March, Trump gutted the clean-energy and climate initiatives put in place by his predecessor. "C’mon, fellas. You know what this is? You know what this says?" Trump said, surrounded by miners as he sat down to sign an executive order rolling back regulations. "You’re going back to work."

The problem, however, is that there isn't work to go back to. The industry has moved on.

Photos by Mark Lyons/Getty Images (left), Ethan Miller/Getty Images.

Trump's actions on energy and climate change will have an effect, that's for sure. It's just probably not the one his supporters voted for.

In February, Trump rolled back the Office of Surface Mining's Stream Protection Rule, a regulation put in place by the Obama administration protecting waterways from coal debris. And while he called it "another terrible job killing rule" and said that rolling it back would save "many thousands American jobs, especially in the mines," it probably won't.

What it will do is make it easier to poison the drinking water of coal communities, something the Kentucky Coal Mining Museum's hometown of Benham, knows a lot about, with some residents expressing concern about their water quality in recent years.

Adding solar panels to the Kentucky Coal Mining Museum is symbolic in a lot of really hopeful ways.

It's a sign that we don't have to forget our past to move toward the future. It's a sign that even in the heart of coal country, people can appreciate energy innovation.

And most importantly and hopefully, it's a sign that even with Trump's actions that threaten to roll back the progress we've made on addressing energy and climate change, progress continues.

Images courtesy of John Scully, Walden University, Ingrid Scully
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Since March of 2020, over 29 million Americans have been diagnosed with COVID-19, according to the CDC. Over 540,000 have died in the United States as this unprecedented pandemic has swept the globe. And yet, by the end of 2020, it looked like science was winning: vaccines had been developed.

In celebration of the power of science we spoke to three people: an individual, a medical provider, and a vaccine scientist about how vaccines have impacted them throughout their lives. Here are their answers:

John Scully, 79, resident of Florida

Photo courtesy of John Scully

When John Scully was born, America was in the midst of an epidemic: tens of thousands of children in the United States were falling ill with paralytic poliomyelitis — otherwise known as polio, a disease that attacks the central nervous system and often leaves its victims partially or fully paralyzed.

"As kids, we were all afraid of getting polio," he says, "because if you got polio, you could end up in the dreaded iron lung and we were all terrified of those." Iron lungs were respirators that enclosed most of a person's body; people with severe cases often would end up in these respirators as they fought for their lives.

John remembers going to see matinee showings of cowboy movies on Saturdays and, before the movie, shorts would run. "Usually they showed the news," he says, "but I just remember seeing this one clip warning us about polio and it just showed all these kids in iron lungs." If kids survived the iron lung, they'd often come back to school on crutches, in leg braces, or in wheelchairs.

"We all tried to be really careful in the summer — or, as we called it back then, 'polio season,''" John says. This was because every year around Memorial Day, major outbreaks would begin to emerge and they'd spike sometime around August. People weren't really sure how the disease spread at the time, but many believed it traveled through the water. There was no cure — and every child was susceptible to getting sick with it.

"We couldn't swim in hot weather," he remembers, "and the municipal outdoor pool would close down in August."

Then, in 1954 clinical trials began for Dr. Jonas Salk's vaccine against polio and within a year, his vaccine was announced safe. "I got that vaccine at school," John says. Within two years, U.S. polio cases had dropped 85-95 percent — even before a second vaccine was developed by Dr. Albert Sabin in the 1960s. "I remember how much better things got after the vaccines came out. They changed everything," John says.

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It's one thing to see a little kid skateboarding. It's another to see a stereotype-defying little girl skateboarding. And it's entirely another to see Paige Tobin.

Paige is a 6-year-old skateboarding wonder from Australia. A recent video of her dropping into a 12-foot bowl on her has gone viral, both for the feat itself and for the style with which she does it. Decked out in a pink party dress, a leopard-print helmet, and rainbow socks, she looks nothing like you'd expect a skater dropping into a 12-foot bowl to look. And yet, here she is, blowing people's minds all over the place.

For those who may not fully appreciate the impressiveness of this feat, here's some perspective. My adrenaline junkie brother, who has been skateboarding since childhood and who races down rugged mountain faces on a bike for fun, shared this video and commented, "If I dropped in to a bowl twice as deep as my age it would be my first and last time doing so...this fearless kid has a bright future!"

It's scarier than it looks, and it looks pretty darn scary.

Paige doesn't always dress like a princess when she skates, not that it matters. Her talent and skill with the board are what gets people's attention. (The rainbow socks are kind of her signature, however.)

Her Instagram feed is filled with photos and videos of her skateboarding and surfing, and the body coordination she's gained at such a young age is truly something.

Here she was at three years old:

And here she is at age four:


So, if she dropped into a 6-foot bowl at age three and a 12-foot bowl at age six—is there such a thing as an 18-foot bowl for her to tackle when she's nine?

Paige clearly enjoys skating and has high ambitions in the skating world. "I want to go to the Olympics, and I want to be a pro skater," she told Power of Positivity when she was five. She already seems to be well on her way toward that goal.

How did she get so good? Well, Paige's mom gave her a skateboard when she wasn't even preschool age yet, and she loved it. Her mom got her lessons, and she's spent the past three years skating almost daily. She practices at local skate parks and competes in local competitions.

She also naturally has her fair share of spills, some of which you can see on her Instagram channel. Falling is part of the sport—you can't learn if you don't fall. Conquering the fear of falling is the key, and the thing that's hardest for most people to get over.

Perhaps Paige started too young to let fear override her desire to skate. Perhaps she's been taught to manage her fears, or maybe she's just naturally less afraid than other people. Or maybe there's something magical about the rainbow socks. Whatever it is, it's clear that this girl doesn't let fear get in the way of her doing what she wants to do. An admirable quality in anyone, but particularly striking to see in someone so young.

Way to go, Paige. Your perseverance and courage are inspiring, as is your unique fashion sense. Can't wait to see what you do next.

Images courtesy of John Scully, Walden University, Ingrid Scully
True

Since March of 2020, over 29 million Americans have been diagnosed with COVID-19, according to the CDC. Over 540,000 have died in the United States as this unprecedented pandemic has swept the globe. And yet, by the end of 2020, it looked like science was winning: vaccines had been developed.

In celebration of the power of science we spoke to three people: an individual, a medical provider, and a vaccine scientist about how vaccines have impacted them throughout their lives. Here are their answers:

John Scully, 79, resident of Florida

Photo courtesy of John Scully

When John Scully was born, America was in the midst of an epidemic: tens of thousands of children in the United States were falling ill with paralytic poliomyelitis — otherwise known as polio, a disease that attacks the central nervous system and often leaves its victims partially or fully paralyzed.

"As kids, we were all afraid of getting polio," he says, "because if you got polio, you could end up in the dreaded iron lung and we were all terrified of those." Iron lungs were respirators that enclosed most of a person's body; people with severe cases often would end up in these respirators as they fought for their lives.

John remembers going to see matinee showings of cowboy movies on Saturdays and, before the movie, shorts would run. "Usually they showed the news," he says, "but I just remember seeing this one clip warning us about polio and it just showed all these kids in iron lungs." If kids survived the iron lung, they'd often come back to school on crutches, in leg braces, or in wheelchairs.

"We all tried to be really careful in the summer — or, as we called it back then, 'polio season,''" John says. This was because every year around Memorial Day, major outbreaks would begin to emerge and they'd spike sometime around August. People weren't really sure how the disease spread at the time, but many believed it traveled through the water. There was no cure — and every child was susceptible to getting sick with it.

"We couldn't swim in hot weather," he remembers, "and the municipal outdoor pool would close down in August."

Then, in 1954 clinical trials began for Dr. Jonas Salk's vaccine against polio and within a year, his vaccine was announced safe. "I got that vaccine at school," John says. Within two years, U.S. polio cases had dropped 85-95 percent — even before a second vaccine was developed by Dr. Albert Sabin in the 1960s. "I remember how much better things got after the vaccines came out. They changed everything," John says.

Keep Reading Show less