The largest solar array in Tennessee, which is also the biggest solar projected connected to the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) grid, is now generating electricity.
The 5 MW West Tennessee Solar Farm was dedicated on April 12. The Haywood County facility off Interstate 40 has 21,000 photovoltaic (PV) panels spread across more than 25 acres. The project could be expanded to 10 MW at a later date. The electricity is being distributed through purchase agreements with Chickasaw Electric Cooperative and Tennessee Valley Authority. Signal Energy designed and built the Solar Farm.
“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 site is also designed for public education. It will be home to a future public information center, scheduled to be completed in late 2013, which will be located in the center of the array.
Ben Fischer, president of Signal Energy, a Tennessee-based design/build firm for the North American renewable energy industry, told GenerationHub he hopes the project will establish a toehold for clean energy in the region.
“We do projects all over the U.S. and into Canada, and the Southeast is the largest untapped market for renewable energy projects that could be built if the right policies were in place,” he said.
Signal has more than 1 GW of renewable energy projects, mostly wind, in the U.S. and Canada.
Fischer thinks clean energy, which has some presence in North Carolina and Florida, said innovation, an improving cost structure and environmental stewardship make solar and wind a natural fit for the Southeast.
“It’s great for other utilities in the region to see the project,” he added. “I think it will help them understand that reliable, affordable renewable energy can be built right in our own backyard.”
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 MW of solar power.
“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.”