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2/4/09 - Gazette Virginian

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$100 Million Assigned To Technology Committee Chaired By Delegate Clarke Hogan
Mid-Atlantic Broadband Cooperative was awarded almost $8 million in grant funding yesterday when the Virginia Tobacco Indemnification and Community Revitalization Commission met in Richmond.

In addition, the full executive committee on Tuesday assigned $100 million for research and development of alternative energy sources to the Technology Committee chaired by Del. Clarke N. Hogan.

Today?s funding decision, along with companion legislation to be introduced and considered in the 2009 session beginning today, would create new jobs in the renewable energy field and help maximize getting cutting-edge technologies into commercial applications, said House Speaker William J. Howell.

?I commend the wise decision by the Tobacco Commission, and especially the leadership of its Chairman, former Senator Charles R. Hawkins, in creating a $100 million fund for the research and development of alternative energy sources,? said Speaker Howell. ?Along with the legislature?s prior efforts to actively support renewable energy development, today?s action by the Tobacco Commission means Virginia is well positioned to become a national leader in developing alternative energy resources.?

?Seldom do you have the opportunity to set yourself apart and go to the ?front of the pack? in something so important to our nation as renewable energy development,? noted Ben J. Davenport, Jr., Chairman of Davenport Energy in Chatham and a member of Virginia Tech?s Board of Visitors. ?Virginia can become a significant leader with this leveraged investment by the Tobacco Commission.?

According to Carole Inge, executive director of the Modeling and Simulation Center for Collaborative Technology and leader of the Virginia Clean Energy Incubator at Riverstone Technology Park, the $100 million is the single largest investment the Tobacco Commission has ever made.

?We are very excited,? Inge said Tuesday afternoon in a telephone interview from Richmond.
Joining Hogan on the Technology Committee to oversee disbursement of the $100 million for research and development in Southside and Southwest Virginia are James C. Thompson, Kathy J. Byron, Linda P. DiYorio, Scott M. Harwood Sr., L. Jackson Hite, Edward Owens, Bryant L. Stith, William C. Wampler Jr. and Thomas C. Wright Jr. In addition to the $100 million in technology funding, Inge said Halifax County also stands to directly benefit from the $7.9 million funded to MBC.

Located in Riverstone Technology Park off Highway 58, MBC was granted over $7.9 million after the Tobacco Commission approved two applications: one for $1,922,894 for a Virginia Community Capital Inc. (VCCI) Operational Loan Agreement Buyback, and the other for $6 million to fund Phase Four of the Southside Regional Backbone Initiative Expansion. According to Inge, the $6 million grant will be funded in two phases with $3 million being awarded now, and $3 million placed in a reserve fund to see if President Barack Obama?s stimulus package is passed.

In the event Congress approves the federal stimulus package, Inge said the remaining $3 million can be used as a matching funds grant. According to Tad Deriso, general manager of MBC, the VCCI Operational Loan Agreement Buyback is a $1,922,894 project that would allow MBC to free up some cash to allow staff to add project managers who would work to address the ?Last Mile? putting broadband where it currently is not available.
Deriso said the $6 million grant for Phase Four of the Southside Regional Backbone Initiative Expansion would assist MBC members (Internet service providers) with capital costs for putting broadband in areas that currently are unserved, additional backbone fiber projects, 10 communications towers around the region, and additional electronics throughout the region.

Deriso said the northern part of Halifax County would benefit from this project grant, as broadband could be made available for residents and businesses in that area.
An application for $64,820 by the Halifax County Agricultural Development Office for its ?No Bees: No Crops? project, already approved by the Tobacco Commission?s Agribusiness Committee, also received funding from the full commission yesterday.

According to Linda Wallace, Halifax County Agricultural Development director, funds were requested through September 2010 to initiate a bee-keeper incentive program to re-establish crop-pollinating honeybees that have been in decline due to ?colony collapse disorder? (CCI). That condition has been observed in Virginia and several states in recent years. Causes for CCD are currently being studied but remain largely unknown.

The project includes cost-share incentives and training supplies and materials needed to conduct recruitment and training workshops, provides replacement bees for 50 established bee-keepers, provides start-up hive kits and bees for 50 new bee-keepers, and provides cost-shared pollination by rented bee hives for agricultural producers in a five-county area.
Wallace said honeybees are primarily relied upon for pollinating crops that include melons, berries, and several other fruits and vegetables grown in the project area.

Wallace said the project could be expanded to include additional counties in the Southside tobacco-dependent counties within the region and in the southwest region, as well.

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