Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Solar Farm Gets Approved

From the Commercial Appeal...

Governor announces approval for solar ‘farm’
By Richard Locker

NASHVILLE -- Tennessee won federal approval Tuesday for a $62.5 million economic stimulus grant for a solar power demonstration farm in Haywood County and solar research institute at the University of Tennessee in Knoxville.

Gov. Phil Bredesen announced the U.S. Department of Energy's approval at his annual economic conference. The next step is an environmental assessment of the roughly 20-acre site alongside Interstate 40 in southwestern Haywood County, about 40 miles northeast of Memphis. That's where the state plans to erect 22,300 solar panels.

The money will be divided between the two components of the "Volunteer State Solar Initiative," which Bredesen hopes will position Tennessee as a center for clean-energy research, development and manufacturing, and a magnet for nonenergy companies that want to jump on the green-energy bandwagon.

Bredesen said he envisions the farm as a "test bed and showcase" for solar power products and also encouraging other manufacturers who want to emphasize their "commitment to environmental stewardship" to locate in a 1,500-acre West Tennessee industrial "megasite" the state is planning adjacent to the solar farm.

That could include "a solar company or any company that wants to be part of the green revolution," he said. "Volkswagen, for example, is not a solar company, but the things that we're doing in green energy were an important part of their decision to locate in Chattanooga. I think you might find an automobile company, for example, that's got a real interest in showing their commitment in this area, or another kind of manufacturer."

The farm will also contain an educational and visitors center, which Bredesen said he hopes will inspire schoolchildren to pursue science education.

He applied for the huge grant in mid-May and said then that he expected approval by the end of that month.

But with Tennessee's request being far different from other states' more conventional plans for their shares of energy funding, Energy Department officials took four months negotiating with the governor's staff before approving it.

The governor acknowledged the state accepted some changes in plans for both the solar farm and the institute.

The farm will no longer be built on the planned "megasite" -- a marketing term used by the Tennessee Valley Authority for large tracts of land that it certifies as ready for industrial development. It will be separate from the larger project, partly because the state didn't want to delay the farm for the larger environmental assessment required of the megasite.

Although the institute will still conduct basic research with other money, it will parcel out its share of the stimulus money to companies and organizations for technology commercialization, technical assistance and workforce development in the field.

Bredesen said the farm can be producing electricity before he leaves office in January 2011.

As for the separate Haywood County megasite, he said he believes it is moving forward despite last week's delay by the State Building Commission of $40 million for the project.

"I was a little concerned," he said. "But I think the constitutional officers (the state treasurer, state comptroller and secretary of state, who are members of the Building Commission) had some very legitimate questions."

--Richard Locker: (615) 255-4923

Volunteer State's Solar Initiative gets OK

The U.S. Department of Energy approved Tennessee's application, filed in May, for a $62.5 million economic recovery and stimulus grant for a two-part solar power initiative that includes:

A 20-acre solar power demonstration farm, educational and welcome center in southwestern Haywood County. Plans call for installation of more than 22,000 solar panels producing 5 megawatts of electricity for TVA's power grid. It is to be operated under contract to Genera Energy, a nonprofit arm of UT.

A solar institute likely housed on UT's new Cherokee Farm research campus in Knoxville. The institute itself will be state-funded, but it will parcel out much of its half of the grant money to other organizations as "innovation grants."

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