Virginia’s Ninth Congressional District has enjoyed a number of new project announcements this autumn focusing on our economic future. Not only will some of these projects bring jobs and investment, but they will involve our region in exciting new fields.
On October 3, Governor Youngkin unveiled the 2022 Virginia Energy Plan, which outlined an all-of-the-above strategy for powering our Commonwealth. On October 14, he came to Wise County to highlight a part of the plan with direct meaning for Southwest Virginia. That part of the plan is the location of a commercial small modular nuclear reactor (SMR) in our region, the first in the United States, in the next ten years.
SMRs are a next-generation technology that brings the advantages of traditional nuclear power without some of its drawbacks. Nuclear generates clean energy, and it does so reliably, without the variability of solar and wind. However, the large scale of traditional nuclear plants makes them unsuitable to certain sites. SMRs, as their name indicates, require a smaller physical footprint, an advantage for hilly terrain such as Southwest Virginia’s, and can be assembled at a factory and transported to a site.
Virginia has the assets to lead the way on SMRs. The nuclear power industry can draw its workforce from our universities with nuclear engineering programs, including Virginia Tech. One of the world’s major nuclear companies, BWX Technologies, is headquartered in Lynchburg. I have visited its facilities in Lynchburg and Erwin, Tennessee.
When Governor Youngkin held his event in Wise County to talk about SMRs, an event I attended, we spoke about the project on an abandoned mine land site. As someone who has led efforts to renew and reuse such sites through bringing federal funding to Virginia via the Abandoned Mine Land Economic Revitalization (AMLER) Program, I am excited by the possibility that land with an energy heritage may be used to house energy technologies of the future.
As this project moves forward, residents of Southwest Virginia should be assured that all safety protocols will be adhered to and that the land selected for the site will be tested for its suitably. Nuclear power will be a valuable and reliable component of an all-of-the-above strategy, which will not exclude fossil fuels.
While we look to the future of nuclear power with SMRs, progress is being made on other energy fronts in Southwest Virginia as well. October also brought the announcement that Wise County would be the site of the Energy Discovery, Education, Learning & Technology Accelerator (DELTA) Lab.
The Energy DELTA Lab, a collaboration between the Virginia Department of Energy, the Southwest Virginia Energy Research and Development Authority, and InvestSWVA, will provide a location for new energy technologies to be tested, developed, and moved toward the commercial market. It was developed through a $975,000 AMLER grant. This site could be for energy what Menlo Park was for Thomas Edison as he invented world-changing technologies like the light bulb and brought them to commercial markets.
In Tazewell County on October 25, I participated in an economic development announcement of a different sort. Blackstone Data Services will be locating in the Bluestone Business and Technology Park, bringing an investment of $18 million over ten years and creating five new high-tech jobs.
The site will host a data center for cryptocurrency mining, which is based on blockchain technology. Cryptocurrency is still a developing field and has had its ups and downs. It is likely here to stay, and projects such as this one will help make it more secure.
Economic growth requires an ability to adapt, to recognize what the future holds and prepare to meet it. I believe these projects that have been unveiled will keep us in competition with other parts of the country and the world beyond. They offer the prospect of new jobs and investment as well as diversification to give our regional economy a broader base.
Growing the economy is a team effort, with the private sector, non-governmental organizations, and government at the local, state, and federal levels each an essential part. I am committed as your Congressman to using the resources I have to usher in the economy of the coming decades.