Bristol Virginia Energy Research Center

Green Energy Boondoggle in Bristol Virginia

by Lewis Loflin

Related: Biofuel Scams Cost Virginia Millions and 2011 Blue Ribbon audit revealed 89 percent of of Tobacco Commission grants have never been accounted for.

Update November 2018: building is still empty.

The SW. Virginia Energy Center in Bristol Virginia is another example of the massive waste at the Virginia Tobacco Commission. As one of five other centers built in Southwest Virginia and Southside Virginia the facility sits essentially empty years after its construction. Costing at least $8 million some reports claim the facility is for sale for $2.5 million.

This is a small part starting in the years 2009-10 of an ill advised speculative effort to cash in on green energy. Since that time energy prices have plummeted and the hoped-for diversion of government grants has dried up. Local press reports are totally confused as to the purpose of this eyesore. It's another type of small business incubator like those that have failed in Abingdon Virginia and Duffield Virginia. The latter two facilities completely failed in their intended purposes and ended up as rented out office space for existing agencies and nonprofits.

This worthless facility is owned by the Virginia Higher Education Center in Abington. To quote Duffy Carmack, "Our timing wasn't exactly wonderful. When we got the building built, the bottom fell out of the coal market so some of the potential candidates we hope will occupy the building were no longer available."

What? They built this thing to cash in on a declining coal industry?

Reference: Bristol Herald Courier April 10, 2016.

The concept from its inception simply makes no sense. The success of hydraulic fracturing for oil and gas production has made green energy and the silly pork-barrel research often associated with it a running joke. Economic developers at the state and federal level have been wanting to shut down the coal industry for some time, so why would we build a facility to do research on coal? To quote the babble from TIC original documents on this:

"We seek and encourage innovations in both conventional and alternative energy. We generate deal flow by maintaining contacts with industry, academia and other referral sources, and by keeping our eyes and ears open. During due diligence review we look for strong business models that are understandable, profit-driven, and not dependent on long-term government subsidies. Ideally the opportunities will be synergistic with existing southwest Virginia natural, institutional, and human resources...

CERD's home is the 14,000 square foot Energy Field Lab being built in Washington County, VA. The building's design incorporates many sustainable features including geothermal, passive solar and rain water collection. We will measure building energy consumption and generation, and display the data on screens in the building and on our website. Space is available for academic and industrial energy-related research."

In other words, "build it and they will come". Since opening June 2014 this boondoggle was dedicated to "facilitating energy-related research that could be commercialized and lead to jobs in the region." When I visited the facility I found only one job that had been created-it was the guy mowing the grass.

Occupants of the facility include a state agency and another person doing software development. These are not permanent tenants, they rent office space by the week or month. While I was there the Bristol Virginia Utilities truck came and went. The large numbers of solar panels allows excess electricity to be sold back to the utility for $1200 a month. This whopping profit from this empty mausoleum doesn't even pay to cut the grass.