Groundbreaking at the Wise solar project. Courtesy of Virginia Department of Energy.

Here’s a round-up of briefs from around Southwest and Southside. Send items for possible inclusion to

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Wise County gets solar designation; ground broken for first solar project

Wise County received a Gold designation from the national SolSmart program for making it faster, easier and more affordable for homes and businesses to go solar, according to the Virginia Department of Energy. The department, also known as Virginia Energy, has partnered with the University of Virginia’s Weldon Cooper Center for Public Service to serve as a no-cost technical advisors with the program.

Wise County’s new SolSmart Gold designation was recognized at the groundbreaking for the solar installation at the Mineral Gap Data Center located in the industrial park. The Wise County Industrial Development Authority received a $500,000 Abandoned Mine Land Economic Revitalization (AMLER) grant from Virginia Energy for site preparation. This is the first solar project under construction in the county and was beneficial toward the Gold designation.

Left to Right are: Jimmy McElrath (Code Official/Zoning Administrator). Michale Hatfield (Wise County Administrator), Brian Falin ( Industrial Development Supervisor) and Randy Moore (Virginia Energy)

Wise County first received the SolSmart Silver designation in 2019, and due to its additional accomplishments the county has now leveled up to SolSmart Gold. To achieve the SolSmart Gold designation Wise County established a permit turnaround time of three days or less for small rooftop solar projects, began offering appointments for inspections and created a solar resource webpage for the county, among other things.

In a statement, Theresa Perry, Program Director for SolSmart at the Interstate Renewable Energy Council said: “This achievement shows that Wise County is on the path to robust solar energy growth, as exemplified by the Mineral Gap Solar Project.”

Virginia communities interested in the Solsmart designation can find more information via the Virginia Energy website. All municipalities, counties and regional organizations are eligible to join the SolSmart program.  

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More than 2,800 to graduate at Virginia Tech’s December commencement

Virginia Tech will graduate more than 2,800 students during commencement ceremonies on Friday, which return to in-person celebrations in Cassell Coliseum.

The University Commencement Ceremony will begin at 10:30 a.m. The Graduate School Ceremony will occur at 2:30 p.m. Both events will be available via livestream video from the university homepage for those unable to attend in person. Doors will open at 9 a.m. for the university ceremony and 1 p.m. for the graduate ceremony.

In keeping with current guidelines related to wearing masks at university events, Virginia Tech will require masks — regardless of vaccination status — for both ceremonies inside Cassell Coliseum.

Virginia Tech alumnus Dan Maguire, entrepreneur and chief executive officer, will deliver the keynote address at the university ceremony.

During the ceremony, 1,494 undergraduates will be recognized for earning bachelor’s degrees.

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Patrick & Henry gets grant for STEM programs

The Patrick & Henry Community College Foundation received a $5,000 grant to support students in P&HCC’s science, technology, engineering, and math-related programs [STEM]. The award was made possible through the Virginia Foundation for Community College Education and the Micron Opportunity Fund.

The purpose of this grant is to help students in STEM programs remain on their path to college completion. The $5,000 could help cover expenses such as textbooks, supplies, transportation, or childcare. Without additional aid, the uncalculated costs of attending college — such as childcare or transportation — can become a barrier to completion for some students, according to a release from the school. This grant could help alleviate those kinds of concerns thus helping students to focus on achieving their academic goals.

“For many of our students, unexpected expenses can be make-or-break in their college journey. A flat tire, a change in job hours that require them to pay for additional childcare, or any number of things can hinder a student’s completion,” Tiffani Underwood the Director of the P&HCC Foundation said in a statement. “Grants like the Micron Opportunity Fund really make a big difference to help give students the little extra bump they need to keep going.”

According to the Micron website, the company “partners with universities around the globe in support of programs and people that inspire the next generation of technology innovators and leaders. Our grants support student experiences, faculty researchers, and programs to help create pathways for underrepresented students to achieve their aspirations in engineering.”

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Rolando Sarabia

Roanoke Ballet names new artistic director

Former Washington Ballet Principal dancer Rolando Sarabia has taken over the reins of Artistic Director from Sandra Meythaler of Roanoke Ballet Theater’s school and professional company. Meythaler is now executive director.

The professional company has 20 dancers from around the U.S. who have made Roanoke their home. The company’s next show is “The Nutcracker” at the Jefferson Center, Dec. 17 at 7 p.m. and Dec. 18th at 2 p.m. and 7 p.m.

The company will take Vivaldi’s “Four Seasons” to Wytheville on Jan. 22 and Chatham on Jan. 23.