Department of Energy approves Tennessee Solar Initiative

Guest Blog | September 29, 2009 | Energy Policy

The Department of Energy approved Tennessee’s State Energy Plan on September 14th, marking a big step forward for the developing solar markets in Tennessee.  The final plan, known as the Volunteer State Solar Initiative, focuses on two projects: a 5MW solar farm to be located in west Tennessee and the development of a Solar Institute that will be located on the UT campus in Knoxville.  Both projects add multiple elements to Tennessee’s push to become a regional leader in solar energy technologies.

The West Tennessee Solar Farm will be the first Megawatt-scale solar installation in the state and one of the largest in the Southeast.  It will provide clean, renewable energy to the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) and offer research opportunities to learn about the interconnection issues associated with incorporating large-scale solar generation into the grid.  The funds generated by the sale of the electricity to TVA will then be used to maintain, and possibly expand, the site.

Perhaps more important, however, will be the Farm’s educational element.  The solar farm will be accompanied by an extensive educational facility, with an energy efficient visitors center that will demonstrate the benefits of solar energy and its place in Tennessee’s energy future.  The Tennessee Department of Transportation will be overseeing the construction of the educational facility, most likely partnering with industry and clean-energy leaders from across the state.  The educational facility will help bring down the misplaced barriers to widespread adoption of solar technologies and generate further support for an already growing industry of solar manufacturers, installers and distributors in Tennessee.  Located along I-40 in Haywood County, millions of travelers each year will be able to see first hand that solar is up and working on a large scale in Tennessee.

The other aspect of the Initiative will be the Solar Institute, with a primary focus of accelerating growth in solar industries.  Hammering out the details of the Institute’s focus slowed DOE approval for many months, yet it was worth the wait since the Institute will provide financial and technical support for widespread installation of solar technologies across the state.  With the research already being done by Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL), TVA and other institutions in Tennessee, the Institute will provide a forum for technical expertise to collaborate with business and policy leaders to accelerate the advancement of solar technologies into the mainstream.

Two specific grant opportunities will be provided by the Solar Institute.  Technical Assistance Grants will be available for solar-related businesses for process and equipment improvements, renewable energy products and workforce development.  In addition, Solar Installation Grants will be available to speed the deployment of solar energy by helping to fund the purchase and installation of small-scale photovoltaic systems.  In total, $23.5 million will be dedicated to these grant opportunities.

While the multi-billion dollar investments made in solar manufacturing made by Sharp, Hemlock, and Wacker Chemie AG have been widely publicized, there is also a growing industry of solar installers and distributors here in Tennessee that will benefit directly from these funds.  This growing industry is providing jobs for the contractors, electricians, salespeople and others who have been hard-hit by the economic downturn.  The Solar Institute, complemented by the educational aspect of the Solar Farm, promises to expand the opportunities for these solar companies, creating jobs in the process.  These are exactly the types of clean energy jobs that were envisioned when the Recovery Act was passed.

SACE commends Governor Bredesen and his staff for their commitment to solar energy technologies and for recognizing the economic opportunities that this industry brings to Tennessee.  Solar energy provides more jobs per unit of energy than any other energy source, making investment in these technologies a great way to create jobs while protecting our environment from further degradation due to traditional energy sources such as coal.  The Volunteer State Solar Initiative will help grow this industry, make Tennessee a regional leader in clean energy technologies, and help ensure that future generations of Tennesseans have a bright, clean and prosperous future.

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