WISE – Federal abandoned mine funds will help start a solar power system at a Wise County data center.
Officials from the Virginia Department of Mines, Minerals and Energy joined officials from Mineral Gap Data Centers, the LENOWISCO Planning District and Wise County government and economic development offices Wednesday to announce the $500,000 grant from the federal Office of Surface Mining’s Abandoned Mine Land Pilot Program.
The planned solar array – the first large-scale solar energy project in the county - is expected to supply more than 3 megawatts of electricity to the Mineral Gap Data Center in the county’s Lonesome Pine Technology Park.
The AML Pilot grant will fund site preparation for the array, to be located on a sloped plot across from an access road running along the data center site. DMME officials said that the site preparation will also clear old mine portals and clogged stream areas from the project site.
“Areas that were once mined are underused,” DMME Deputy Director Butch Lambert said. “We have thousands of acres that have the potential to have a great impact to the economy of Southwest Virginia.”
“Mineral Gap Data Center is already a leading-edge example of a vital and growing industry,” Mineral Gap spokesperson Kathleen Fowler said, “so combining our highly secure facility with highly renewable solar power is a win-win for us, for the region’s economy and for the Commonwealth’s green-energy leadership.”
Congressman Morgan Griffith, R-9th, called the project a “positive contribution to Wise County’s economic climate” because of the associated construction jobs and providing an additional power source for the Mineral Gap center.
“It’s going on land that’s basically unusable for any other building construction, and that’s beneficial,” County Administrator Mike Hatfield said of the site.
“It’s also a marketing tool,” LENOWISCO Executive Director Duane Miller said of the project. “Other businesses looking at the area will see this facility, and that’s a plus for businesses considering similar facilities. Any kind of alternative energy is attractive for economic development.”
The Lonesome Pine Technology Park is located on a former surface mine site that was under consideration for construction of a Virginia state prison in the 1990’s before land compaction issues led the state to build the prison elsewhere in Wise County. Development of the technology park followed on the site, which originally housed two call centers.
Besides the Mineral Gap center, the park now includes a call center, private school, graphene research and development facility, construction supply company, lawn care business, driving range and the temporary offices for the county Department of Social Services.
Miller said the $500,000 grant will be combined with approximately $2.5 million in private investment and another approximately $1.5 million in other funding sources to meet the $4.5 million project cost.
Devin Welch, Chief Strategy Officer of project contractor Sun Tribe Solar, called the project and future solar developments an economic development “engine.”
“We’re grateful that we have public sector leaders here in Virginia who understand that by working with the private sector on locally-focused solutions, we can use renewable energy as a positive force for change in all of our communities,” Welch said.
The Mineral Gap project is one of 18 projects that DMME and an advisory committee of area planning agency and private sector members submitted to the Office of Surface Mining for consideration. The 2018 and 2019 funding rounds each had $10 million for grants, and the 2020 process is expected to fund another $10 million in projects across Virginia, West Virginia, Kentucky and Pennsylvania.