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Solar Project To Power New Jobs To Halifax County

The Halifax County Industrial Development Authority (IDA) and Dominion Power have announced plans to develop a pilot demonstration facility for solar power generation and battery storage in the county. The proposed facility is expected to generate about four megawatts of power and be the largest integrated solar-battery facility in Virginia.

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, according to IDA Executive Director Mike Sexton.

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 a $5 million grant proposal to the Virginia Tobacco Commission’s Research and Development Fund to help fund the project, according to Sexton.

And Dominion plans to ask the Virginia State Corporation Commission for permission to build the facility.  If all the approvals are received, the integrated solar and battery storage facility is expected to begin operating in 2012, Sexton said.

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.”

As it stands now, one of the drawbacks to solar energy is that the sun is not always shining, and thus the energy must be stored in batteries for a consistent flow of power to the grid.  This manufacturer’s new, patent pending, technology seeks to improve the solar industry.

“Solar energy holds enormous potential in Southside Virginia,” Sexton said.  “However, the challenge is integrating this variable resource in a reliable way on the electric grid. Battery storage provides a means for effectively managing, storing and optimizing solar energy to regulate intermittency, enable peak shaving and increase grid reliability.”

About the company, which has chosen to remain unnamed for competitive reasons, Sexton said, “The battery supplier has engineered a green battery and coupled it with an environmentally friendly chemistry for alternative energy power management and storage solutions.

“The unique battery design significantly reduces battery resistance, cost size and weight while increasing efficiency and power,” he continued.  “As a requirement of the agreement and prospective battery systems purchase order, the supplier must locate and operate an advanced manufacturing facility in Halifax County.”

In addition to batteries for energy, the manufacturer, in conjunction with the University of Virginia, will work on a family of battery products for power storage in several other rapidly growing billion-dollar industries.

Neither the location for the solar facility nor the manufacturing plant has been chosen at present, Sexton said.

The solar facility will require a space of 30 to 50 acres, according to Sexton. He said he then hopes the manufacturing plant, which must be around 70,000 square feet, will locate in an existing building in the county.

Currently, Dominion spokesman Dan Genest said he is unsure how many solar panels will be utilized for the project, but that the project in Halifax is the only one of its kind on which Dominion is working.

As for how this project came to fruition, Sexton said the battery manufacturer initially visited the county over a year and a half ago because of the energy center located in Riverstone Technology Park.

This project is so exciting, Sexton said, because it serves as a prototype of “what we want for research and development and commercialization.”

Sexton explained that often times good research and development projects never translate into manufacturing jobs and thus frustrate both the IDA and the Tobacco Commission.

“To have parties such as Dominion and U.Va. conducting this ground-breaking research here and the potential collaboration of our Clean Energy Center located in Riverstone will help bring the region to the forefront of energy storage research,” he concluded.