Where the 2018 Candidates Stand on Energy: Democratic Nominee for Tennessee Senator Phil Bredesen

This blog was written by Jennifer Rennicks, former Senior Director of Policy & Communications at the Southern Alliance for Clean Energy.

Guest Blog | September 19, 2018 | Elections, Tennessee

This post is the ninth post in a series of blogs examining where 2018 candidates for state and federal offices in the Southeast stand on key energy and climate issues. To read the candidate profile for Republican Nominee for Tennessee Senator, Marsha Blackburn, click here.

Note: The Southern Alliance for Clean Energy does not support or oppose candidates or political parties. Links to reports, candidate websites and outside sources are provided as citizen education tools.

Candidate: Phil Bredesen

In this blog, we examine the policies and positions of Phil Bredesen, former mayor of Nashville, former governor of Tennessee, and businessman. SACE is committed to evaluating the energy platforms of both major party candidates running for Senator of Tennessee and encourage Tennessee voters to tune into a live upcoming debate between former Governor Phil Bredesen and Congresswoman Marsha Blackburn on September 25 at historic Cumberland University in Lebanon. Go here for more info on this debate.


Although Bredesen does not state a position on renewable energy on his campaign website, his support for solar energy is evident as a founding partner of Silicon Ranch, a Nashville-based solar company founded in 2011 that boasts more than 100 projects in 14 states including the Southeast. While Bredesen currently serves as Silicon Ranch chairman, he has indicated he intends to step down as chairman if elected to the US Senate to focus on senatorial duties.

During Bredesen’s tenure as governor, he’s credited with attracting at least 20 new clean-energy manufacturing ventures to Tennessee, representing more than $2.9 billion in investment and creating more than 2,000 jobs producing photovoltaic panels, wind turbines, electric cars, and cellulosic biofuels. One of these was the major, $1 billion clean energy manufacturing investment by Wacker Chemie AG of Germany in 2009.

While Bredesen was governor, a report released by the Pew Charitable Trusts acknowledged Tennessee’s top national ranking in clean energy job creation, noting that jobs in Tennessee’s emerging clean energy economy grew more than seven times faster than the state’s overall jobs between 1998 and 2007. In response to these findings, Bredesen noted that “Tennessee has worked hard to be a leader in the clean energy sector and it’s clear from the Pew report that our efforts are yielding dividends in job creation. Expanding our focus on energy efficiency, renewable power production and other clean energy activities is helping jumpstart our state’s economy and is the right thing to do for the environment.”

Energy Efficiency

During his second term as governor, Bredesen convened a Governor’s Task Force on Energy Policy to develop a comprehensive state energy plan. (One of the Task Force members, noted in this article, was John Noel, chairman of the Southern Alliance for Clean Energy.) Key Task Force recommendations formed the cornerstone of the Tennessee Clean Energy Future Act signed into law by Bredesen in 2009 as he noted that, “coupled with financial commitments to new solar energy and electric vehicle initiatives, this new law helps set the stage for a brighter clean energy future in Tennessee.” One of the most important recommendations was to focus on increasing energy efficiency in state buildings, which was implemented (and continued in the present Haslam administration), and has lead to significant energy reductions as well as savings for taxpayers.

Earlier, during a radio interview on the Hugh Hewitt radio show back in 2008, Bredesen indicated his support of energy efficiency efforts by noting how important it is “to really focus on conservation-related things, which I can affect here at the state level, and focus very heavily on the state of Tennessee. I mean, we operate millions of square feet of buildings, and Lord knows how many thousands of vehicles, and all those things. And before we ask others to be doing things, we probably should get our own house in order.”

Clean Transportation

While Bredesen served as governor, Tennessee became one of five states to participate in what the U.S. Department of Energy described as “the largest deployment of electric vehicles and charging infrastructure ever undertaken.” The state’s role in that project was an outgrowth of conversations between Nissan North America, Oak Ridge National Laboratory, the Tennessee Valley Authority, and other public and private partners committed to promoting the use of zero-emission vehicles, including electric vehicles. “Our clean-energy future depends on the adoption of new technologies,” Bredesen said. “It’s gratifying to see Tennessee joining other top clean-energy states at the leading edge of this exciting new project.”

Climate Change

In a radio interview from 2008, while Bredesen was governor, he was asked about climate change and responded: “I think it’s a serious issue. I think that I’m not ready to ascribe every hundredth of a degree of global warming solely to human activity. There’s also other cycles that go there. But I think that we’ve substantially changed the atmosphere over the course of the past century in particular. I think it’s going to continue, the situation will continue to deteriorate in that regard for another hundred years. It’s something that’s not going to happen tomorrow. But certainly doing things like trying to invest in technologies, discover technologies for sequestration and so on. It would be important things to put some leverage behind, and I think we need to start doing that.”

The only other published reference to climate change we could find was from a 2014 Politico story where Bredesen was referencing the Democratic party’s positions on a several key issues, “We’re known for gay rights, immigration, climate change and an unpopular health plan,” Bredesen said. “I think we’re on the right side on all those issues, but it’s not what people are looking for right now from government.”

Fossil Fuels 

Bredesen was governor in December 2008 when the Kingston coal plant dumped millions of gallons of toxic coal ash sludge across 300 acres in eastern Tennessee. Bredesen did not criticize the use of coal nor the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) directly, but said he was putting the agency on notice that state officials would no longer allow the federal agency to inspect itself. “We will be looking over their shoulders,” said Bredesen in the midst of the disaster.

Just before leaving office, Bredesen took a firm stand against mountaintop coal mining by signing a petition filed in 2010 declaring that mountaintop coal mining is incompatible with existing local and state plans and would affect fragile or historic lands and would result in significant damage to cultural, scientific, aesthetic values or natural systems. As a result, the federal government banned mountaintop coal mining in more than 500 miles of ridges in East Tennessee’s Cumberland Mountains in 2016.

We have been unable to find any statements on his campaign website or in previously published stories clarifying where Bredesen stands on natural gas.


During a 2008 radio interview, Bredesen offered his clear support for nuclear energy, noting “I happen to be a believer that you can’t really solve the energy problems of this country without relying more heavily on nuclear energy. You have no argument with me on that whatsoever. And I think there’s obviously public concerns about it. I believe they can be addressed. And certainly here in Tennessee, TVA is busy expanding their nuclear capacity [a reference to the then-under construction Watts Bar nuclear expansion project], and I think it’s an important piece of it” and stressed that “I certainly think it has to be a part of any real solution to this problem.”

The Bredesen Center for Interdisciplinary Research and Graduate Education – a joint partnership between the University of Tennessee and the Oak Ridge National Laboratory that was founded to promote advanced research in nuclear energy, engineering, and computation – is named in honor of former Governor Bredesen who had the idea for a research institute of that kind during his time as governor and helped secure support.


We encourage Tennessee voters to tune into a live upcoming debate between former Governor Phil Bredesen and Congresswoman Marsha Blackburn on September 25 at historic Cumberland University in Lebanon. Go here for more info on this debate.

We encourage you to register and then vote this November. Click here for voting resources provided by the Civic Tennessee/Clean Energy Voter.  If you are inspired by this blog and have questions for the candidate, please contact his campaign here.

Guest Blog
My Profile