STANTON, Tenn.— Tennessee has cut the ribbon on the state’s largest solar power array. DOE Deputy Secretary Poneman, Deputy Governor Ramsey and University of Tennessee President Dr. DiPietro joined a crowd of almost 200 to celebrate the opening of the West Tennessee Solar Farm. The Farm officially began generating power today.
The Haywood County facility is capable of generating 5 megawatts of electricity, enough to power 500 homes and offset 250 tons of coal each month. That makes it the largest solar-energy array connected to the Tennessee Valley Authority’s grid.
“The West Tennessee Solar Farm opens a new chapter in the history of American solar power, tying together economic development, public education, and future research capabilities that will cement Tennessee’s leading role in this fast-growing, high-tech sector,” said Dr. Joe DiPietro, president of the University of Tennessee.
The Farm features 21,000 photovoltaic solar panels spread across more than 25 acres. The generated electricity is being distributed through purchase agreements with Chickasaw Electric Cooperative and Tennessee Valley Authority. Signal Energy designed and built the Solar Farm.
In addition to producing power, the Farm is designed to educate the public about solar power. The Farm will be home to a future public information center, accessible to some 10 million motorists who drive by the Interstate-40 site every year. Scheduled for completion in late 2013, entrance and exit ramps from the interstate will be included, as well as an interactive renewable-energy exhibit that will be housed in the center. Information about the energy generated by the solar array will be available at the Solar Farm’s website.
“The University of Tennessee owns and operates the Solar Farm, and looks forward to using it as a great teaching tool,” said Dr. David Millhorn, executive vice president of the University of Tennessee. “ It’s exciting that the Farm will serve as a proving ground for the generation of new solar energy technologies. A utility-scale test site is a game changer in the solar energy field.”
“We are excited the West Tennessee Solar Farm has become a reality after years of hard work and planning,” Molly Cripps, director, ECD Energy Division said. “The Solar Farm will serve as a visible reminder of the possibilities the advanced manufacturing and energy technologies sector hold for Tennessee.”
The solar-energy industry is a rapidly growing sector of the state’s economy. Tennessee has 180 for-profit companies in its solar value chain, employs more than 6,400 people in solar-related industries, and has installed approximately 27 megawatts of solar power. Recent reports by Bloomberg New Energy Finance show solar represents a $137 billion global market that grew by more than a third last year alone.
More than 100,000 job hours were worked during design, build, installation and connection of the West Tennessee Solar Farm. In excess of 20 vendors supplied American-made parts and skilled labor.
“Signal Energy’s work as the design/build firm on the West Tennessee Solar Farm underscores our commitment to help institutions like the University of Tennessee and the State of Tennessee bring large-scale, innovative renewable energy projects to market and employ a skilled workforce to build our nation’s clean energy future,” said Ben Fischer, president of Signal Energy a leading design/build firm for the North American renewable energy industry.
The West Tennessee Solar Farm is part of the Volunteer State Solar Initiative (VSSI), created to benefit the Tennessee economy by using federal dollars to create jobs and provide support to a growing solar industry. Under the VSSI, $31 million in ARRA funds were allocated for the West Tennessee Solar Farm and the Tennessee Solar Institute received $23.5 million to issue grants from the Solar Opportunity Fund, a program to encourage the installation of next-generation solar energy systems by Tennessee businesses, and to provide training, technology and technical assistance to companies in the solar industry value chain. The VSSI has assisted in the installation of more than 10 megawatts of renewable energy generating capacity in Tennessee. In addition to broadening the adoption of new clean energy technologies, the VSSI also is designed to facilitate the training of Tennesseans in new skills and the sharing of “best business practices” across Tennessee’s burgeoning renewable energy industry.
About the Tennessee Department of Economic and Community Development
The Tennessee Department of Economic and Community Development’s mission is to create higher skilled, better paying jobs for all Tennesseans. The department seeks to attract new corporate investment in Tennessee and works with Tennessee companies to facilitate expansion and economic growth. To find out more, go to tn.gov/ecd or investtennessee.org.
About University of Tennessee Research Foundation
The University of Tennessee Research Foundation is an independent 501(c)3 organization that provides the commercialization of University of Tennessee technologies, helping UT inventors turn their ideas and discoveries into products and services that benefit society. UTRF supports university research, entrepreneurship, and state and regional economic development. With offices in Knoxville and Memphis, UTRF serves all of UT’s statewide campuses and institutes.
This material is based upon work supported by the Department of Energy under Award Number DE-EE0000160. CDFA 81.041