Ever wonder what happens to abandoned coal mining land? Well, thanks to the regulations of the Railroad Commission of Texas, many become restoration projects and the RRC gives an annual award to companies doing the best work in the pursuit of public safety and natural resources.
On Tuesday, the RRC announced the 2015 Reclamation Award recipient. The Texas Westmoreland Coal Company’s Jewett mine received the award for its reclamation work in the counties of Freestone, Leon and Limestone. Commissioners recognized the company for its innovative, solar-powered water well that supplies a portable irrigation system used for re-vegetation of reclaimed acreage planted with trees and shrubs.
According to the RRC, nearly half of the mine’s 31,000 total acres are in various stages of reclamation, as required by Railroad Commission rules. Commissioners noted that Westmoreland’s solar-powered irrigation system is instrumental in establishing vegetative cover for the company’s reclaimed acreage.
RRC Chairman David Porter said, “Because of the mine’s remote location, traditional overhead transmission lines were not available to power a water well for reclamation. Instead, Westmoreland researched and then developed a large solar powered reclamation well to irrigate reclaimed areas. Ultimately, [the company] has carried on a long-standing practice of restoring natural areas.”
The system captures solar energy through several large photovoltaic modules, which then send the converted energy to electric water pumps. Groundwater is brought to the surface and temporarily held in large, on-site storage tanks until battery-powered remote control valves open, allowing water to flow through the irrigation systems until the preprogrammed interval of time has expired. Each irrigation zone is synched to allow for an almost completely self-sufficient watering system.
“The innovation by Westmoreland Coal Company is typical of our energy producers in Texas,” stated Commissioner Christi Craddick. They take a challenge and then develop a new way to address it. In this case, how to irrigate a remote, large-scale re-vegetation project in a dry climate.”
Commissioner Ryan Sitton noted that the Jewett mine is one of the largest in Texas, producing roughly five million tons of lignite annually. That’s about 9 percent of the state’s total coal production each year, the Commissioner specified.
“I applaud Westmoreland’s creativity in figuring out how to bring energy and water resources to an isolated area for required reclamation,” said Sitton.