Bristol Virginia Energy Research Center
Taxpayer waste $8 million Bristol Virginia Energy Research Center another empty building producing nothing.

Virginia's $140 Million Green Energy Boondoggle

by Lewis Loflin

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

Update September 2022: the building is still empty.

The Southwest Virginia Energy Center in Bristol, Virginia, is another example of massive waste.

Other facilities built at the same time failed in their stated mission. One in Wise, Virginia, was a waste.

$140 million wasted.

Built to lure in NanoChemonics, the company failed in 2010.

Also see NanoChemonics Fiasco in Wise, Virginia

Danville facility went to a local community college. I think there were two other "research centers."

$140 million went to these boondoggles. To quote,

"the Virginia Tobacco Indemnification and Revitalization Commission provided $36M toward construction of five facilities, $4M for operating support, and $100M for R&D to support university-based energy research and development."

The Virginia Tobacco Commission, as one of five other centers built in Southwest Virginia and Southside Virginia, the facility sits empty years after its construction. Costing $8-$10 million, the facility is for sale for ~$2.5 million in 2022.

This starting in 2009-10, an ill-advised speculative effort to cash in on green energy. Since that time, energy prices have plummeted (until 2022) the hoped-for diversion of government grants has dried up. Local press reports are confused as to the purpose of this eyesore.

It's another type of small business incubators like those that have failed in Abingdon, Virginia, and Duffield, Virginia. The latter two facilities ultimately failed in their intended purpose. They became rented out office space for existing agencies and nonprofits.

Virginia Higher Education Center in Abingdon owns the facility.

To quote Duffy Carmack, "Our timing wasn't exactly wonderful. When we got the building built, the bottom fell out of the coal market.

Some potential candidates we hope will occupy the building were no longer available."

What? Did they build this thing to cash in on a declining coal industry?

Reference: Bristol Herald Courier April 10, 2016.

The concept from its inception 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 levels have wanted to shut down the coal industry for some time, so why would we build a facility to research 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 in June 2014, this boondoggle has been advertised as,

"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 created: 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 weekly or monthly.

While I was there, the Bristol Virginia Utilities truck came and went.

Solar panels sold surplus power back to the utility. This whopping profit from this empty mausoleum doesn't even pay to cut the grass.

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