A first-of-its-kind “energy technology testbed” will be developed to turn a portion of a 100,000-acre former coal mine site in southwest Virginia into a laboratory to advance energy innovation, Governor. Glen Yankin announced Tuesday.
“Energy Delta Labs realizes our vision of defining Virginia as a force for energy innovation,” Youngkin said in a news release. “There is no other program like it in the United States. Through this energy testbed, we see a commitment to transformation, encouragement for start-ups, and support for developing promising careers in exciting new fields.”
The announcement comes a day after the governor launched a new energy plan that calls for innovation in energy technology that mentions the Energy Delta project.
The initial location will be near the town of Pound in Wise County, on a property owned by Cumberland Forest LP and managed by The Nature Conservancy.
The site will serve as an advanced solar and energy storage laboratory, according to Will Payne, managing partner of Coalfield Strategies, which leads business development for Energy DELTA Lab and InvestSWVA.
The first site could be up and running for at least two years, he said.
A second location, also in Wise County, will be announced later this month, he added.
“We currently have a number of projects in the due diligence phase related to these two sites that are worth over $1 billion,” Payne said Tuesday.
Plans call for possible other locations in the area.
DELTA, which stands for Discovery, Education, Learning and Technology Accelerator, has been four years in the making. This is the result of a collaboration between the Virginia Department of Energy, the Southwest Virginia Energy Research and Development Authority and their business development partner, InvestSWVA.
The DELTA program was developed through a $975,000 grant from the Federal Abandoned Mine Land Economic Revitalization Program, which supports economic efforts in areas impacted by the coal industry’s downtown core.
Payne said DELTA will be a hub between landowners, potential customers, utilities and broadband companies. He stressed that the purpose of the effort is not just research and development, but to create jobs and grow the economy.
The land and its assets, above and below ground, will be laboratories — no traditional labs or classrooms will be involved, he added.
Mike Quillen is the founder and CEO of Alpha Natural Resources, where he is chairman of the Energy DELTA Laboratory and the Southwest Virginia Energy Research and Development Authority.
“The Energy Delta Lab is a concept that becomes a reality in the most logical place,” Quillen said. “Our work as part of the global energy story is entering a new chapter, encouraging a re-examination of energy production and what it means – and needs – to enjoy a successful career in the industry.
Payne called Quillen “the godfather of Southwest Virginia” and said he provided credibility to the project.
Payne said the original concept for the project was designed by Michael Kamis, former director of the Virginia Center for Coal and Energy Research, based on what Germany had done for its mines.
Further research on the concept was led by InvestSWVA and the LENOWISCO Planning District Committee through a grant from the GO Virginia One Committee and the U.S. Economic Development Authority.
The region is ideal for research and development of energy technologies because, in addition to former coal mines, it has more than 9,000 gas wells, numerous mines and water systems, and diverse terrain, mineral and underground resources.
“The Energy Delta Lab’s focus on developing new and innovative energy technologies using traditional energy assets can only happen in southwestern Virginia,” Payne said. “This is just the beginning of what we must do together to realize our vision of a new, diverse economy in the region. And, with the Energy Delta Lab as our tool, we can define Virginia as the center of energy innovation on the East Coast All.”
Energy technologies mentioned include hydrogen, mine-based geothermal, innovative solar power and advanced energy storage technologies, including pumped storage hydro. Small modular nuclear reactors were also mentioned, and the governor said Monday that he hopes to deploy one of these in southwest Virginia within the next 10 years.