Tobacco Commission Meets the Energy Crisis

The Virginia Tobacco Indemnification and Community Revitalization Commission will likely approve the expenditure of $12 million to establish two energy-research centers in the region, reports David McGee with the Bristol Herald Courier.

The centers, to be located in Abingdon and Wise, would study clean coal and other environmentally friendly technologies.

The Southwest Virginia Clean Energy Research and Development Center would be housed in a 16,000-square-foot building to be constructed on the campus of Virginia Highlands Community College in Abingdon. The center would employ a staff of 20 by its third year, have an annual operating budget of $7 million and generate more than $11 million in annual economic impact, according to commission documents.

A second center, located in the Lonesome Pine Technology Park in Wise, would be dedicated to clean-coal technology, converting coal to liquid fuels, mercury remediation and reducing sulfur levels. Other energy sources, including solar power and the production of hydrogen gas, also could be studied.

Meanwhile, the Tobacco Commission is considering other proposals to fund a sustainable energy research center in Danville, a nuclear energy research facility in Bedford, and a facility in Gretna that would convert crops into bio-fuels.

I’m all in favor of research to promote alternate fuels, but I’m wondering… Will these initiatives receive enough funding to make commercially viable breakthroughs? If so, what are the odds that the breakthroughs will be commercialized locally? Do the research centers have plans for transitioning to financial independence, perhaps by developing ties to local industry, or will they become wards of the Tobacco Commission?

Finally, will these research centers contribute to the creation of an industry cluster big enough and strong enough to recruit and retain human capital? Even if they’re successful, what larger vision or strategy for SS and SW Virginia will they advance?

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  1. James Atticus Bowden Avatar
    James Atticus Bowden

    $12m for R&D doesn't go very far.

  2. floodguy Avatar

    One can’t say Dominion’s $0.5M last fall, didn’t help Va Tech win a much larger carbon sequestration award from the DOE shortly thereafter.

    If you built it, they will come.

    I think these types of research facilities lay the groundwork for greater development and greater funding, with the end goal of generating sustainable energy concepts specific to the region.

    Virginia is growing more heavily dependent on coal and gas, and that is going to change.

  3. Groveton Avatar

    I question how sprinkling relatively modest amounts of money into R&D in areas with limited technical profeciency will amount to anything. These clean fuel technologies are complex areas. They require a combination of technology disciplines.

    I believe a better plan would be to consolidate Virginia's public universities into a single operating entity (as has been done in California). There would be some major campuses like UV-Charlottesville and UV-Blacksburg. There would be some satellite campuses like UV-Abingdon. But the whole network would be operated with minimal overlap and duplication. UV-Blacksburg would have core responsibility for agriculture, energy and "hard" engineering. It would also have managerial control over satellites like UV-Abingdon. Monetary awards would always be to the UV-Blacksburg campus even if those awards required a percentage of the research to be physically performed at places like UV-Abingdon. Most importantly, all funds for agriculture, energy and hard engineering would go to UV-Balcksburg. None would go to UV-Charlottesville which would concentrate on business and law.

    In this day of high performance networks, sophisticated collboration software and ubiquitious access to data over the internet, the idea of competitive, redundant public universities is outmoded. Virginia's public university system should be run as a common entity with twin goals of educating the yoyth of Virginia and providing economic opportunity to the Commonwealth of Virginia.

    Those who say that this combination of universities will result in drab, non-competitve schools should review UCLA's traditions and history. Those who say that this combination will result in academic weakness should review UC-Berkeley's rankings in US News and World Report.

  4. Anonymous Avatar

    From the Tobacco Commission web site, the special projects committee is also recommending funding to IALR for their Sustainable Energy Technology Research Center. The focus will be on cellulosic biomass crop research and processing cellulosic biomass into biofuels. If approved, this research ties into the biomass research activities already underway at the institute.


  5. not your father's ec dev Avatar
    not your father’s ec dev

    From what I know in the best of these the Tobacco Commission funds are for bricks and mortar with clear links back to existing university research programs and established corporate partners. Think if what’s been going on with Tech, UVA and AREVA in nuclear engineering at the CAER in Lynchburg.

  6. Every bit of this so-called ‘research” has been duplicated elsewhere, most of it has failed.

    This is about pork or sending money to established university programs.

    I was at the Commission meeting on July 31st and asked point blank from the podium, after informing them I spent Friday at the Remote Area Medical in Wise, “What is in these millions that will deliver a single job or health care to the average SW resident?”

    I still have no answer. I’ll be doing a write up of what I did find out for my website. See

    Keep up the good work at Bacon’s Rebellion.

  7. Jim Bacon Avatar
    Jim Bacon

    Lewis, You’re raising great issues and asking good questions on your website. I hope people are paying attention. Keep up the good work.

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