Coal as Energy Tour gives local educators look inside flipping the light switch

A group of educators tour TECO Coal in Hazard on the Coal for Energy Tour. (Photo provided)

A group of educators tour TECO Coal in Hazard on the Coal as Energy Tour.

I was fortunate enough to go on a Bluegrass Greensource Coal as Energy Tour, recently, with educators from the Bluegrass Region. The tour is intended to broaden teacher’s knowledge of potential energy sources and provide a balanced and fair view of each resource.

The two-day tour (offered free to educators) definitely broadened all participants’ knowledge of the complex processes involved in the simple act of flipping a light switch.

The first day of the tour was packed full of information and featured stops at Eastern Kentucky University’s Center for Renewable and Alternative Fuel Technologies, Berea College’s Ecovillage, Berea Utilities Solar Farm, Berea’s Mountain Association for Community Economic Development, and the Kentucky Coal Mining Museum.  We spent the night in Benham, Ky. at the School House Inn (which is rumored to be haunted).

The next morning we got up bright and early for a deep mine tour at TECO Coal Company in Hazard.

The deep mine tour at the TECO coal mine was the most memorable stop for me. After watching a two-hour safety training and donning coveralls, steel-toed boots, safety glasses, identification tag and safety belts with a SRU (self rescuer unit), we headed toward the entrance of the mine.

The foreman showed us a map of the mine and the three-mile path we would be taking into the side of a mountain in order to see the heart of the mining operation. Our one-hour journey to the mining site involved a 700-foot trip down in a slope car, followed by a 40-minute ride in a “man trip” (an open-air bumpy rail car), and a ride down a muddy hill in a similar diesel-powered contraption.

Traveling down, I could feel the ventilation system pushing air through the mine – a constant stream of cold. Once we reached the end of our journey through the wet, cave-like tunnel, we saw the real work-horse of today’s mining operation – the Continuous Miner. This giant machine is like a large steam roller with hundreds of drill bits that cuts through walls of coal at an extraordinary speed.

I watched a car fill up with 15 tons of coal in less than one minute. At the same time the coal is being mined, hundreds of gallons of water are being pumped onto the mining site to keep the coal dust under control.

We then walked through the mud and rock dust, ducking our heads as we went, to see the most dangerous job in modern coal mining – the roof bolters. The roof bolters go into areas that have just been mined to secure the ceiling. Every few feet the roof bolters must drill deep into the rock (not knowing what they might find while drilling) to mount the bolts that will allow the Continuous Miner to go forward and allow miners to walk into a new part of the mine. These roof bolts also provide the safety and support needed to prevent tons of rock falling and crushing a miner.

As we started to travel out, we also saw the conveyer that takes the coal out of the mine and the small break room (a hole in the rock) with a much-welcomed heater. The trip out took just as long as the trip in and was twice as cold, since we were traveling against the stream of the ventilation system.

We only spent three hours total in the mine, but the experience is something I will never forget. There are men and women that spend 10 hours in this mine every day doing this work to support their families, and they deserve our respect.

This entire Coal as Energy Tour gave me a new perspective and expanded my knowledge of energy in Kentucky. All of the educators I spoke with on the tour had nothing but great things to say about the experience. One teacher even praised the tour stating it was “one of the best, educational, thought-provoking tours, as an educator, I have taken in 25 years of teaching.”

Not only is the tour a great educational and personal development opportunity for teachers; all teachers who go on the tour receive funding for an energy related field trip for their students and help from the Bluegrass Greensource educators on energy based lesson plans and activities.

If you are a teacher and are interested in going on our next Coal as Energy Tour, please contact Pattie Stivender at or call 859-266-1572.

Ashley photo

Ashley Bryant Cheney is the Green Jobs Coordinator for Bluegrass Greensource, connecting green businesses with a young workforce and preparing students for green careers in the Bluegrass. From Knoxville, she’s worked in volunteer and program management at various nonprofits. She has a bachelor’s in Psychology from Carson-Newman University and a master’s in Urban Studies and Community Development from Eastern University.

Green Jobs for a Green Future

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