Wise County, Virginia. (Sarah Vogelsong/Virginia Mercury)
A public-private initiative that aims to test out emerging energy technologies on Southwest Virginia lands formerly mined for coal has signed an agreement to develop its projects on 65,000 acres primarily located in Wise County that are owned by a major natural gas and pipeline company.
The deal, announced by Republican Gov. Glenn Youngkin’s office Wednesday, will give the Energy DELTA Lab access to a large tract of formerly mined lands owned by Texas-based company Energy Transfer and managed by its subsidiary, Penn Virginia Operating Company.
Short for Discovery, Education, Learning & Technology Accelerator, the DELTA Lab has for several years been a priority for regional and state leaders eager to both keep a flourishing energy industry in Virginia’s coalfields and diversify an economy that for decades was dependent on coal.
Crafted as a partnership between regional business development group InvestSWVA, the Virginia Department of Energy, the Southwest Virginia Energy Research and Development Authority and energy and utility companies, the DELTA Lab proposes to use the abundant lands and existing infrastructure of Southwest Virginia as test sites for new wind, solar, nuclear, battery and pumped storage, hydrogen and other emerging energy technologies.
The Youngkin administration said Wednesday that “more than a dozen projects” under consideration by the initiative represent over $8.25 billion in potential private investment, 1,650 new “high-paying” jobs and nearly a gigawatt of new power generation.
“Repurposing former mined lands in Southwest Virginia for development will allow us to create sites where energy demand and generation can co-locate, leading to more opportunities to grow Virginia’s economy,” said Virginia Secretary of Commerce and Trade Caren Merrick in a statement.
Wise County Administrator Mike Hatfield said in the same release that because large portions of Wise have been difficult to develop, “given limited access due to private and federal ownership,” the new agreement “will create game changing opportunities that simply did not exist before.”
Energy Transfer, which owns both the surface and mineral rights of the land that will be used by DELTA Lab, manages roughly 675,000 acres of land in West Virginia, Kentucky, Indiana and Virginia through Penn Virginia Operating Co.
Tarah Kesterson, a spokesperson for the Virginia Department of Energy, said there is only one coal mining permit associated with the 65,000 acres, for A&G Coal Corporation’s Meg-Lynn Mill Branch Mine. That operation is no longer actively mining, and the department is waiting for the bond to be released following cleanup, she said.
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