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Virginia Clean Energy Business Incubator Endorses Virginia Dominion Power's Solar Project

The National Institute for the Commercialization of Clean Energy's Chairwoman and Chief Executive Officer, Dr. Carole Cameron Inge, endorsed the proposed Virginia Dominion Power solar project in an exclusive interview with journalists Monday from her Tyson's Corner office complex. "We are thrilled to see progress toward 'clean energy' development in Virginia and especially in a community like Halifax County that is in such desperate need for jobs," stated Dr. Inge. Inge is the founder of the Virginia Clean Energy Business Incubator and currently leads the Northern Virginia-based organization. The Virginia statewide incubator is an organization that is part of the National Institute for the Commercialization of Clean Energy, a national consortium of incubators working to bring clean energy technology to market around the globe. In recent months, Virginia Dominion Power has taken steps to develop clean energy programs.

"We first discussed clean energy efforts with the power company over a year ago when we explored developing an algal biofuels project in their Richmond headquarters, and shortly thereafter, Dominion established their first community incubator in Ashland, Virginia. During those discussions, it was clear the target for Dominion was photovoltaic technology and I recall a senior executive stating the vision was to have solar farms replace tobacco farms in the Southern region of Virginia," stated Inge. "They (Dominion) has stayed true to their vision and we believe the Tobacco Commission will support the project." Inge is a long time senior technology program leader and recipient of significant Tobacco Commission funds, most recently for the Riverstone Energy Center and the Advanced Manufacturing facility, both located in Halifax County Virginia. These funds totaled $8 million dollars and supported the purchase of equipment.

According to Mike Sexton, a local official with the Halifax County Industrial Development Authority (IDA), the construction of the solar panel site is expected to create approximately 100 jobs, and the battery manufacturing facility is expected to create about 150 jobs over a 36-month period, Sexton explained, noting these jobs would be on “the higher end of the scale of manufacturing jobs.”

According to the Gazette Virginian, to make the project feasible, Dominion has reached an agreement with a battery storage manufacturer to maximize the benefits of this unique project for the county. IDA Executive Director, Mike Sexton explained the project has three entities working together to make it happen:

• Dominion, which estimates it will invest $27.9 million on the project;

• The unnamed manufacturer, which will supply and manufacture the batteries; and

• The University of Virginia, which will work with both Dominion and the manufacturer through its Center for Electrochemical Science and Engineering and its Department of Systems Engineering to conduct all its research related to this project in the county.

The IDA and Dominion have submitted the $5 million grant proposal to the Virginia Tobacco Commission’s Research and Development Fund to help fund the project, according to Sexton.

To support the grant, the Halifax County Industrial Development Authority (IDA) adopted a resolution Friday morning in support for a 2011 $5 million application by the IDA and Dominion Virginia Power to the Research and Development Program of the Virginia Tobacco Indemnification and Community Revitalization Commission. The program is designed to bring energy research to fruition and ultimately create jobs but can a small rural community with high illiteracy rates create and sustain 250 high tech jobs involving chemical engineering? According to Dr. Inge, "the challenge for many rural communities is the workforce, and this is especially true in that region of the state where the history of the workforce has not been in the energy development and engineering space but rather in the textile and tobacco farming areas. Extensive training can cost companies money and time, and for the clean energy sector, time and money are limited, especially with the amount of investment in this area coming from China, a serious competitor to the US in clean energy." Halifax County has a higher education center and official's supporting the project believe there should be a rapid deployment of training programs around energy in order to meet the workforce demand Dominion is suggesting.

Another component of the Dominion Power pilot demonstration facility for solar power generation is battery storage. "Energy storage is the key element with solar but the costs to the environment must be carefully considered and could be hazardous," stated a chemical engineer affiliated with the project. The proposed facility is expected to generate about four megawatts of power and be the largest integrated solar-battery facility in Virginia. Inge interfaced extensively with the undisclosed battery storage company early in the process of this deal and she was instrumental in connecting the University of Virginia researchers with the company's researchers last fall. "It is my hope that the companies, the University of Virginia, and the local community can seal this deal and put the Riverstone Energy Center in business. It was our vision to have energy be a major part of the revitalization of the region and it is theirs to lose," said Inge. In a final comment, Dr. Inge went on to explain that the Virginia Tech Modeling and Simulation Center in Riverstone Technology Park can be a perfect match for the pending energy research and commercialization partnership. She told reporters, while the equipment is a bit dated, it should be useful for a while longer to monitor manufacturing processes and possible environmental risks related to the facility.

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