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KUB prepares to launch community solar power this winter

By Shannon Smith, Teknovation Assistant Editor, PYA

What once was just green is now making Knoxville greener.

If you’ve driven on I-40 recently between I-640 and Alcoa Highway, you may have noticed an empty field off the roadway suddenly holds an array of solar panels.

That’s a collection of about 2,000 individual solar panels that will begin powering the homes of some Knoxville Utilities Board (KUB) customers this winter.

“This has been in the works for a few years now,” said Chasity Hobby, Environmental Programs Lead with KUB. “It’s a partnership with the City of Knoxville. They have graciously provided us the land to install the solar array on. It will provide an option for KUB customers to subscribe to renewable energy that’s generated locally right here in Knoxville, which is a really cool thing.”

This 1-megawatt shared community solar array sits on three acres of land at the City of Knoxville’s Public Works building, and it’s also part of a partnership with the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA). It’s expected that the array, once operational, will generate enough energy to power 100 homes.

“We like to look at our power source as kind of an electron stew,” said Hobby. “So this solar array is generating electrons that are going on to KUB’s distribution system, and they’re getting mixed in with all the rest of the energy that’s powering all the different homes and businesses in Knoxville.”

So if you opt in to pay for the solar array, you’re getting an extra ingredient in the electron stew powering your home. Hobby said more than 400 KUB customers have expressed that interest.

There are about 2,000 shares of community solar energy available for KUB customers to pay for. The more shares you purchase, the more local solar energy goes to your home.

“Community Solar is a completely optional program for customers who want to support renewable energy. It’s a monthly cost that will be $5 per share,” said Hobby. “For that share, they will get back a credit based on how much renewable energy is produced each month. So it really mimics what it would be like to have solar panels on your home, in that you’re paying for panels located in the community and then you’ll get a credit on your energy bill each month based on how much is produced.”

Hobby said KUB’s goal is to eventually be at 20% solar power for all customers. Not all of that will come from such visible and local solar panels like the ones now on display in Knoxville.

“Renewable energy is becoming increasingly important to our customers,” said Hobby. “It’s a big thing for economic development, helping create jobs, helping bring in businesses with sustainability goals, and also just a big part of community emissions reduction goals. So as a utility company, we’re able to offer renewable energy options for our customers and do larger projects at scale that can help make a bigger difference.”

Knoxville’s community solar array’s panels are up, and connections and wiring are being done now to get the program ready to launch this winter. Local Knoxville company Solar Alliance is the contractor building that array.

If you’re interested in learning more about or would like to opt in to community solar, you can visit KUB’s website.

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