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Israeli solar, wind company makes Wise County overtures

Stephen Igo • Aug 17, 2016 at 6:00 PM

WISE -- Israeli renewable energy company Energix Renewable Energies Ltd., a specialist in solar and wind projects not only in Israel but significant projects in Poland and emerging projects in parts of Africa, offered intrigue and possibilities for a potential solar project in Wise County on Wednesday.

The company is exploring the potential of building a total 500 megawatts (MW) of renewable energy projects across Virginia, and state and local officials made sure Wise County was included as a potential project site.

Speaking before more than three dozen area and regional government and economic development officials at the Inn at Wise on Wednesday, Energix Chief Executive Officer Asa Levinger said he wasn't there for some showy but meaningless "meet and greet" but intended and hopes for a serious exploration with state and local officials about siting an Energix renewable energy project in the county.

Last month, Gov. Terry McAuliffe visited Energix headquarters in Israel, a stopover that played a big role in Wednesday's visit to Wise County by Levinger and the company's Chief Financial Officer Elad Cohen armed with an impressive power point display of what the company does and how it goes about it, which apparently does not include showing up just anywhere around the globe just to chat.

Levinger's presentation was prefaced by remarks by Ralph Robbins, executive director of the Virginia-Israel Advisory Board, and by phone by state Secretary of Commerce and Trade Maurice Jones.

Robbins said the Energix visit was the result of a "convergence of circumstances" including the commitment by the federal and state governments for alternative energy, the fact Wise County "wants to take the lead" in its own economic revitalization efforts and be innovative doing so, the potential of federal and state funds for a renewables project, and perhaps political clout at the federal level.

Robbins said Virginia "is close to the federal government ... and we may move closer. We'll know that in a couple of months," a strong hint of ties between McAuliffe and Democrat presidential nominee Hillary Clinton and national elections in November.

Jones said state officials are "excited about the opportunities of renewables in Wise County" and told Levinger "we are excited about the fact you are here and we look in the future to announce a great project in Wise County."

Wise County Circuit Court Clerk J. Jack Kennedy intimated a solar project could support the voracious energy consumption needs of the county's expanding data center industry, a major attractant for that industry to grow even more.

For several years, Sykes Enterprises has operated a customer care center facility at Lonesome Pine Business & Technology Park located adjacent to Lonesome Pine Airport, now with brand new neighbors Frontier Secure, opening this month, and Mineral Gap Data Center, currently under construction. Potential Energix solar sites to be eyed by Levinger and Cohen during their visit are in that area.

Levinger said Energix, the largest independent renewable energy power producer in Israel now making strides internationally, has a vision "that makes us special" by thinking long term and outside the box.

When deciding on a project, "we are here to stay," Levinger said. "We are here to create a project and be here 20 (or more) years."

Energix has the experience, the financial strength and innovative approach to initiate and develop its own projects without the lag and drag of a consortium of different investors to please, he added.

"We think we know how to think outside of the box," he said. The Green Revolution "is already here," Levinger said, and acknowledged Energix is already impressed with the encouragement and support of state and local government, diverse opportunities in an emerging market, and the range of opportunities for cooperation with local players.

A focus on rural America is part of his company's DNA, Levinger said, in a way the company ensures locals will be heavily involved in job-creating projects. "We like the challenge," he said. "We live for the challenge."

Levinger said when he looked out his hotel room window Wednesday morning and took in Wise County's rural vista, "I felt like I'm doing something right. I am following my truth and our company's goals."

State Delegate Terry Kilgore, R-Gate City, slated to provide luncheon remarks, told the Times-News Wednesday's Energix soiree represents "a big opportunity for us. We pride ourselves on producing a lot of energy including coal and gas, and this will just add to that mix. If we can do solar, that will set us apart from the rest of the state. We're going to do what we can do to land (Energix)."

Private discussions were also slated Wednesday involving LG&E/Kentucky Utilities/Old Dominion Power Co., Dominion Virginia, and American Electric Power/Appalachian Power Co. representatives, the coordination with utilities crucial to establishing a renewable energy project.

Other speakers Wednesday including Virginia Department of Mines, Minerals and Energy (DMME) Deputy Director Butch Lambert, DMME geographic information systems specialist Daniel Kestner, DMME energy marketing specialist Nick Polier, Virginia Coalfield Economic Development Authority (VCEDA) Executive Director/General Counsel Jonathan Belcher, Wise County Industrial Development Authority Executive Director Carl Snodgrass, and Mountain Empire Community College Vice President of Academic and Student Services Vickie Ratliff.

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