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Local businesses talk about energy plans

View story at The News & Advance...The Lynchburg Regional Business Alliance hosted its quarterly Business at Breakfast event Thursday morning, bringing in local energy panelists to discuss Virginia Gov. Glenn Youngkin’s 2022 Virginia Energy Plan and the region’s role in its implementation.

The Lynchburg region is home to two of the world’s largest nuclear companies, BWXT and Framatome, as well as a major manufacturer of industrial power, Delta Star. The 2022 Virginia Energy Plan calls for a nuclear innovation hub to be established in the state and for a commercial small modular reactor to be deployed in southwest Virginia within the next decade.

The event featured a panel of experts including Gary Mignogna, CEO of Framatome; April Wade, executive director of the Virginia Nuclear Energy Consortium (VNEC); Jason Greene, CEO/president of Delta Star Inc.; and Larry Jackson, director of Government Affairs at Appalachian Power.

Megan Lucas, CEO of the Lynchburg Regional Business Alliance, highlighted the significance of the region’s energy industry in a statement at the Business at Breakfast event. She also spoke about the 2022 Virginia Energy Plan and expressed excitement about the potential for energy innovation in the region and the opportunity for local companies to be at the forefront of the movement.

Although Rex Geveden, president of BWXT, did not attend the event because of scheduling conflicts, Lucas acknowledged the company’s strong support for the Alliance and nuclear manufacturing in the region. She mentioned BWXT is currently building a micro reactor prototype for the Department of Defense at its new facility in Campbell County.

She also mentioned news of Delta Star’s upcoming expansion, which involves a new 80,000-square-foot manufacturing space to support its mobile and power transformer operations to meet increased demand of the growing and vital sector of the economy. Lucas said Virginia successfully competed with California and Pennsylvania for this project, which will create 149 new jobs.

According to Mignogna, nuclear power plays a vital role in Virginia’s energy mix, with 32% of the state’s electricity being produced by nuclear power and 95% of clean energy coming from nuclear sources.

To maintain this existing fleet, Framatome’s role is to provide services to the four units in Virginia to keep them operating for at least 100 years. In addition, they are supporting new reactor developers and helping them bring their designs to fruition.

“Beyond that, we’re designing and deploying medical isotopes that are produced in reactors — both therapeutic and imaging isotopes — and I think that’s also an extremely important social benefit to nuclear power,” he said.

The development of the workforce is also crucial, and Framatome is actively working with colleges such as Liberty University, Virginia Tech and Virginia Commonwealth University to train and develop the necessary workforce to support nuclear energy initiatives, he said.

“Framatome will probably be adding 300 to 400 jobs over the next 18 months in order to support the initiatives, not only here in Virginia, but elsewhere,” he said.

Wade said VNEC was established by legislation in 2013. She noted the legislature has been vocal about the industry’s strong foundation in Virginia and that every governor since VNEC’s establishment has acknowledged the significance of the nuclear industry in the state.

She expressed her appreciation for Youngkin’s focus on the industry and his announcement of the 2022 Virginia Energy Plan.

Delta Star is employee-owned, meaning funding for projects comes from within the company rather than outside sources. Despite the challenges, the company decided to expand in Virginia due to the good infrastructure and labor markets.

Greene said Delta Star doesn’t generate power but rather receives it and distributes it to different places through the electrical infrastructure, which is the grid that everyone depends on.

He believes the state of the grid has deteriorated over multiple decades, and the solutions going forward will require a combination of various approaches rather than relying on one particular generation or distribution source.

Furthermore, Greene said the grid has been in operation for a long time and replacing it entirely without disrupting power or managing it in an inefficient way is no longer feasible. As a result, Delta Star is trying to become more adaptable with what they offer to the grid.

“I think the one big takeaway is when you hear ‘We’re gonna go this direction,’ and the politicians say, ‘This is what we’re going to do,’ the real solution long term is a little bit of everything. And that’s the only way we’re probably going to get there,” he said.

Jackson said getting large transformers quickly is not an easy task, as it takes a considerable amount of time to receive an order from Delta Star, which still makes its products by hand and not by computers.
Jackson spoke about the four types of customers that electric power companies have: those who prioritize reliability, those who prioritize cost, those who prioritize green energy and those who don’t care.

He emphasized that the generation source has to be reliable, dispatchable and economic, while also taking into account the rising costs of fuels and other factors that affect customers’ electric bills. He added the goal of going zero carbon by 2050 is a challenge, and the company has to find a way to achieve it without hurting people or impacting economic development.

Lucas asked to fulfill the promise in the governor’s energy plan and sustain the current fleet, what is going to be required in the state and for our energy partners?

“Workforce,” Wade replied. “We need the people. If we’re gonna make these goals, we’re gonna need the people to do it.”

Jackson advocated for education about nuclear power and its benefits. He said some people may have negative perceptions about nuclear energy, but he believes safety is a priority and nuclear energy is an economical solution.

“I believe we really do need to start educating the general public and the business community is a step [forward] and the benefits nuclear can have. We really don’t see another solution, zero carbon,” he said.

Overall, the panelists agreed the Lynchburg region is well-positioned to play a leading role in the implementation of the governor’s energy plan and to be a hub for energy innovation in the coming years.