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Halifax County IDA seeking $140 million in stimulus

The Halifax County Industrial Development Authority (IDA) approved a resolution supporting the issuance of up to $140 million in revenue bonds for the benefit of Dominion Virginia Power when it held its quarterly meeting at Riverstone Technology Park Friday.

Neither the IDA nor Halifax County will be liable for the stimulus funding obligation which will use funds from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 to fund a solar power generation and battery storage facility in Clover, according to IDA Executive Director Mike Sexton.

Specifically, Dominion Power has requested the authority issue the bonds under the Act and the Recovery Zone Facility Act.

Dominion Power representatives said the estimated cost of the project and all issuance expenses will require revenue bonds in the principal amount “not to exceed $140 million,” according to the resolution.

The resolution was adopted Friday morning after a public hearing was held on the request in which no one from the public attended, only lawyers for the IDA and for the power company.

In June, the IDA and Dominion Power announced plans to develop the pilot demonstration facility for solar power generation and battery storage in the county.

The proposed facility to be located at an undisclosed site in Clover 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 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, Sexton said.

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.

Dominion Virginia Power estimates that the Halifax Project will create approximately 150 manufacturing jobs over 36 months, according to Lisa M. Williams, an attorney with McGuire Woods, the firm representing Dominion Power.

Williams reiterated that Halifax County nor the IDA “will in any way be responsible for the repayment of the bonds.”

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 announced, 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.

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.

In the resolution adopted Friday morning, Dominion Power requests the IDA issue the revenue bonds to finance or refinance construction and equipping of certain solar facilities located in Halifax County at or adjacent to the company’s existing power generating station off Route 92, approximately 3.2 miles northeast of Clover off State Route 600, approximately two miles north of Route 360.

A portion of the requested funds also is slated to be used in connection with the company’s clean-coal electric power generating station located in Wise County.

The IDA will request and recommend the county board of supervisors approve the issuance of the bonds by the authority, Sexton said.

In other action during Friday morning’s meeting, IDA members heard updates from the IDA director on the Riverstone Energy Center and Riverstone site ready projects, Day Site/Commerce Lane and a marketing report.

Sexton explained IDA continues to meet with potential operators for the energy center and expects to have a contract in place in the next 30 to 60 days for its operation.

“We want partners who can attract research and development prospects, and we are meeting and negotiating to get as much success out of the energy center as possible,” Sexton said.

Bob Mitchell, the IDA construction representative for the IDA site ready projects at Riverstone, informed board members the project work under way is expected to come in “under budget and on time.”

Sexton concluded the meeting updating IDA members on recent marketing efforts saying, “We are entertaining a new prospect and very excited about that.”