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Nearly $100 Million Coming To Develop Renewable Energy W.Va. Coalfield Industry, Jobs

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Tre' Sexton
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Bluegrass Solar
More than $15 million will transform two former Huntington industrial sites into 21st century green power manufacturing centers.

The Appalachian Climate Technology (ACT Now) coalition of West Virginia is one of 21 winners of the $1 billion Build Back Better Regional Challenge.

Funded by the American Rescue Plan and administered by the U.S. Department of Commerce’s Economic Development Administration (EDA), the Regional Challenge is awarding approximately $62.8 million in grants to ACT Now, led by the Coalfield Development Corporation to create a hub of clean energy and green economy jobs.

The project is intended to spur job growth in 21 economically distressed and coal-impacted counties in southern West Virginia by creating a hub of clean energy and green economy jobs. The coalition will support the transition from coal to solar power and will implement sustainable reuse projects on abandoned mine sites, rejuvenate brownfield sites with new facilities, and develop entrepreneurial programs to support employment.

The ACT Now Coalition is led by Coalfield Development and includes the cities of Huntington, Charleston and Logan; Marshall and West Virginia universities; and several economic revitalization organizations and private-sector innovators. The coalition’s efforts focus on building a new economy for southern West Virginia.

More than $15 million will transform two former Huntington industrial sites into 21st century green power manufacturing centers.

The former American Car and Foundry (ACF) industrial site, which is owned by the Huntington Municipal Development Authority, and is now part of the Huntington Brownfields Innovation Zone, or H-BIZ, will receive $8.2 million to set up a new manufacturing hub. The first anchor tenant of this H-BIZ manufacturing hub will be a new Welding & Robotics Technology Training Center. Marshall University’s Robert C. Byrd Institute (RCBI) will oversee the training center in partnership with Mountwest Community and Technical College (MCTC). RCBI will utilize robotic welding technology at this new training center and integrate it into its advanced welding program.

Coalfield Development Corp., a nonprofit organization headquartered in Wayne that focuses on rebuilding the Appalachian economy from the ground up, will receive $7.5 million to partner with Solar Holler and transform the former Black Diamond factory in Huntington’s Westmoreland neighborhood into a new “Mine the Sun” solar training and logistics center.

The Solar Holler company is one of many partners involved in the major undertaking.

Solar Holler CEO Dan Conant said it all starts with training boots on the ground installers.

“There is going to be an absolute boom of renewable energy construction and building,” Conant said. “We're going to see an amazing transition towards renewable energy over the next 10 years.”

In Charleston, the Learning, Innovation, Food, and Technology (LIFT) Center is an initiative led by the city of Charleston and the Charleston Area Alliance. In partnership with Marshall University, Coalfield Development Corporation, the regional economic development organization Advantage Valley, and private sector companies, plans are to transform the 9-acre, 110,000 sq. ft. Kanawha Manufacturing plant, located on Charleston’s East End, into the LIFT Center.

The LIFT Center will include the new Marshall Green Battery Institute which will provide research and development on electric batteries for clean vehicles, zero-emissions airplanes, and renewable energy storage; a coalfield development job training center; and a food hub run by Refresh Appalachia.

The LIFT Center will also include private investments by innovative companies, including Parthian Battery Solutions — electric battery repurposing; BETA Air — zero-emissions, electric vertical takeoff and landing airplanes (which will start using West Virginia International Yeager Airport); Dickinson Renewables — launched by West Virginia’s oldest company; and Edelen Renewables — an Appalachian innovator in solar projects.

“The ACT Now Coalition has written the playbook on how we can move West Virginia forward — and that’s together,” said Charleston Mayor Amy Shuler Goodwin. “It is through partnerships and collaborations, West Virginia can and will be at its best and most competitive. We have shown today, we can compete with anyone in the country.”

West Virginia will commit $2 million in state matching funds to this project through the Department of Economic Development.

“This grant funding will be an absolute game changer for the 21 West Virginia counties that will see the impact of these grant dollars in job creation, training, and community development,” Gov. Jim Justice said. “We’ve embraced these energy strategies in West Virginia, and we are incredibly thankful for the continued support of the EDA as we work together to continue diversifying our economy. I sincerely thank the EDA, ACT Now, and all those that made this possible.”

The ACT Now Coalition will receive an additional $30 million in match and leverage support from Bloomberg Philanthropies, the Claude Worthington Benedum Foundation, the Just Transition Foundation and other philanthropies for its economic revitalization efforts.

Government Reporter, ryohe@wvpublic.org, 304-634-8123

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