Middlesboro Community Center Powered by Solar Energy

A man works on solar panels on a roof in Kentucky.
Homes, Inc. Seth Long of Homes, Inc. checks solar panels on the business's rooftop. © Mike Wilkinson

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The Nature Conservancy (TNC), Mountain Association and the City of Middlesboro announced today the installation of solar panels on the Middlesboro Community Center, eliminating most of the Center’s energy costs and reducing its carbon emissions. The Center, a mainstay of activity in Middlesboro, is used for community gatherings from birthday parties to business meetings. The installation is part of a growing trend toward renewable energy and energy savings projects in the region.

“We’ve seen renewable energy in other communities, but this is new for us,” said Boone Bowling, mayor of Middlesboro. “One of the greatest things about this project is that it’s going to be an eye-opener for so many people who use our Community Center. This is a big leap forward for us, and that is so exciting for me. I can’t thank The Nature Conservancy and Mountain Association enough.”

The 162-module installation will produce approximately 74,000 kilowatt-hours (kWh) of energy per year, saving the city approximately $8,500 per year on the Center’s energy bills.

In addition to the financial benefits, the solar panels will greatly reduce the Center’s carbon emissions. As the climate changes, the transition to renewable energy becomes even more important.

The solar panels were funded in large part by the Cumberland Forest Project, an impact investment fund managed by TNC that owns and operates over a quarter of a million acres in the Appalachian Mountains of Kentucky, Tennessee, and Virginia. The surface and mineral estates on the 253,000-acre Cumberland Forest Project property are severed, with Cumberland Forest LP owning and TNC managing the surface estate and separate entities owning the mineral estate. The mineral rights owner must pay royalties to the surface owner for any coal, oil or gas extraction. While there is little mining on the property, the Cumberland Forest Project reinvests 100 percent of the royalty payments it does receive into a Community Fund. In Kentucky, TNC has directed those funds to support solar installations on community buildings in the southeastern corner of the state.

“Reinvesting in local communities is an important part of the larger Cumberland Forest Project, and we are thrilled to partner with Mayor Bowling and the Mountain Association to bring the benefits of solar power to Middlesboro,” said David Phemister, state director for TNC in Kentucky. “Solar is a smart investment in the future that also yields immediate benefits.”

Other funding sources included the City of Middlesboro, the Appalachian Solar Finance Fund and General Motors.

The Community Center is the first of what will be a series of solar installations by TNC in partnership with Mountain Association.

“Mountain Association is honored to work with The Nature Conservancy and the community of Middleboro in the city’s big step into energy transition with the installation underway of 162 solar modules on the rooftop of the Middlesboro Community Center,” said Josh Bills, senior energy analyst for Mountain Association. “This solar system is expected to drop electric expenses for the Center—and the city pool—more than 80%. In addition to reliance on a local company for the installation, the solar installation will offer protection to the city against the rising cost of electricity. Additionally, both the city and residents will experience what solar can do for a community’s resiliency.”

The panels are being installed by HOMES, Inc., a Whitesburg nonprofit dedicated to providing affordable housing solutions to families in Letcher County, Kentucky. The organization installs solar energy on eastern Kentucky residential and commercial properties to reduce community energy costs.

“HOMES is excited to have been selected to be a part of this innovative solar project here in the mountains of eastern Kentucky,” said Seth Long, executive director of HOMES, Inc. “Projects like these help us to put local folks to work, providing our employees with excellent hands-on training opportunities in renewable energy. There is a lot of misinformation about solar out there. We see solar as a proven solution to help small businesses, homeowners and local governments survive in economically difficult times. Each new solar project is an opportunity to engage the local conversations truthfully.”

TNC and Mountain Association look forward to upcoming solar installations at Red Bird Mission and the Leslie County Animal Shelter.

The Nature Conservancy is a global conservation organization dedicated to conserving the lands and waters on which all life depends. Guided by science, we create innovative, on-the-ground solutions to our world’s toughest challenges so that nature and people can thrive together. We are tackling climate change, conserving lands, waters and oceans at an unprecedented scale, providing food and water sustainably and helping make cities more sustainable. The Nature Conservancy is working to make a lasting difference around the world in 77 countries and territories (41 by direct conservation impact and 36 through partners) through a collaborative approach that engages local communities, governments, the private sector, and other partners. To learn more, visit or follow @nature_press on X.