Who says the coal and solar energy industries always have to be on opposite sides? Interesting things can happen when they work together.

Take, for instance, what recently happened at the Kentucky Coal Mining Museum in Benham, Kentucky.

”We’re here because of coal.”

The small town of Benham owes its existence to the coal mining industry. It’s still a major contributor to Benham, along with the museum. But the nearby source of fuel doesn’t translate to inexpensive electricity. So the museum owners decided to look for a way to save.

Their answer was to go solar.

Southeast Community and Technical College own the Kentucky Coal Mining Museum. A spokesperson for the college told reporters that he expects the solar panels to cut the museum’s energy costs by up to $10,000 a year.

The museum was built in 1994. It features a 2-ton block of coal, and it’s filled with historic exhibits of Kentucky’s mining past. You’ll find early mining tools, and fascinating photographs. You’re in for an unexpected treat when you make it up to the 3rd floor. That’s where Loretta Lynn keeps part of her personal collection. It’s the perfect place for the country singer who became synonymous with the industry when she made “Coal Miner’s Daughter” a top hit on the radio.

Fighting to preserve a legacy

In its heyday, the Appalachian town of Benham had a population of more than 3,000. Coal mining job losses reduced both the number of residents, and opportunities for the revenue that museum visitors would bring. It’s why the museum went on a hunt for ways to save.

Coal mining isn’t going to disappear completely for quite some time, but the same couldn’t be said for the Kentucky Coal Mining Museum if its owners can’t find ways to reduce operating expenses. Utilities for the building ranked as one of their biggest costs. Renewable energy was the obvious answer—even though it’s at odds with the industry the museum was created to preserve.

The news has been all over this story. There’s been a great deal of sensationalism directed at the irony of a museum devoted to coal mining with banks of solar panels on the rooftop. The museum’s directors and the town itself takes a more stoic approach. They agree that the decision to go solar is charged with symbolism—but in the end it came down to practicality. Solar makes financial sense.

Businesses and organizations all over the country are coming to the same conclusion. Solar can significantly offset utility costs. There are interesting and innovative new solutions, too, including Minnesota solar gardens like the ones created by SolarStone Partners.

These mini solar farms—designed to serve communities—can save a business up to 10% on utility bills, and lock in guaranteed rates next 25 years. Read more about it here.