The Home of the Blues Gets a Little Greener

Guest Blog | October 9, 2015 | Energy Policy
Universal Life Insurance Building Groundbreaking

Memphis, TN, known as the Home of the Blues, got a little greener last week when two important clean energy projects were recognized during a one-day press event. Southern Alliance for Clean Energy was on site at both events, to celebrate these important milestones as the city of Memphis moves towards a more sustainable future.

The groundbreaking of the “new” Universal Life Insurance Building celebrated that project’s award of $2 million in Qualified Energy Conservation (QEC) bonds from the Green Communities Program, managed by the Memphis-Shelby County Office of Sustainability and the Housing and Community Development department. Additionally, the Memphis-Shelby County Office of Sustainability received an $80,000 Clean Energy Grant from the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation (TDEC) to install solar panels and an educational display at the Lichterman Nature Center. SACE couldn’t be happier to highlight these two big developments in Memphis’ path to a cleaner, greener economy. 

Self + Tucker Architect Team at Universal Life Building Groundbreaking Event

The historic Universal Life Building was built in 1949 by the country’s first African-American architectural firm and is currently on the National Register of Historic Places. This historic building was home to the Universal Life Insurance Company, which became the fourth largest black-owned business in the country at the time. It also played an important role in civil rights history, serving as a place for meetings, rallies and voter registration.

Self + Tucker Architects are the force behind the project and will undertake the renovation that is expected to provide more than 200 construction jobs and become a poster child for energy efficiency. The project will include a 50-kilowatt (kW) solar array, which will not only provide renewable energy to the building, but will also be part of a green collar job training program. The $2 million in QEC bonds will be used to fund a “greenroof,” tankless water heaters, solar parking lot lighting and LED light fixtures – qualifying the building for LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) certification.

Memphis Mayor AC Wharton, Jr. and SACE Energy Organizer, Sandra Upchurch

Ultimately, the new Universal Life Building will serve as a hub for minority business services, including:

  • Memphis Office of Resources and Enterprise
  • Black Business Association
  • Memphis Area Minority Contractors Association
  • Small Business Administration
  • Tennessee Small Business Development Center
  • Renaissance Business Center
SACE Energy Organizer, Sandra Upchurch and Memphis and Shelby County Office of Sustainability Administrator, John Zeanah


Along with the Universal Life Building groundbreaking, SACE was on-hand to celebrate the award of an $80,000 TDEC Clean Energy Grant that will help install a 50-kW solar array at the Lichterman Nature Center, part of the Pink Palace Family of Museums. This solar array will be the city’s first solar installation on a government owned building and is expected to begin construction in December, after contractors select the best location for the array on the nature center’s 65 acre site.

The city estimates that it will save $7,200 a year in energy costs, generate 65,700 kilowatt-hours of electricity and help reduce carbon dioxide emissions by 68 tons annually. If that wasn’t exciting enough, the solar panels will include rooftop, real-time monitors that will display information on the amount of energy being produced, in real-time, as part of an educational display housed in the nature center’s Visitor’s Center.

SACE will continue to track the success of these projects and work with community leaders to continue to promote clean energy solutions for Memphis and the rest of our Southeastern region.

TDEC presents city officials with grant for Lichterman Nature Center solar array. From left to right: Antonio Adams, Director, General Services for City of Memphis; Christine Donhardt, Memphis-Shelby County Office of Sustainability; Lori Munkboe, TDEC Director of Sustainable Practices; Janet Hooks, Director, Memphis Public Services and Neighborhoods; AC Wharton, Jr., Mayor of Memphis.


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