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Knoxville Business News Tennessee Mountain Scenery Background
June 12, 2023 | Tom Ballard

Solar energy availability becoming critical for economic development

A panel discussion organized by the Tennessee Advanced Energy Business Council explores this topic from a variety of perspectives.

What’s the best advice that a blue ribbon panel of individuals offered during the June 12 webinar on “Solar Energy for Economic Development”? It was communication that is early, often, and totally transparent.

Hosted by the Tennessee Advanced Energy Business Council (TAEBC) and moderated by Kim Raia, Environmental Management Consultant with the University of Tennessee’s County Technical Assistance Service, the panel included a diverse set of participants ranging from a representative of The Nature Conservancy to the Mayor of a West Tennessee city in the midst of considering a solar farm installation.

Having a renewable energy source is becoming more important for many industries considering locating new or expanded facilities across the Volunteer State. Some communities have been on the early, some might say bleeding edge of the movement, such as Terry Wimberley, President and Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of the Paris Board of Public Utilities (PBPU).

“We’ve learned a lot in the past two years,” he said, urging other communities to involve their local power companies as quickly as possible. PBPU, Silicon Ranch, and the Tennessee Valley Authority held a “Flip the Switch” event on March 28 on a 6.75-megawatt solar facility and are planning for a 50-megawatt unit.

“It takes about 10 acres for every megawatt of solar you want to generate,” Wimberley said. He also stressed the fact that “If solar is going to generate power, we care. It has to connect to our system.”

Local utilities can also help to find what he called “willing sellers” of land.

Another West Tennessee community that has a small solar facility is the City of Ripley and, like Paris, it is considering a much larger installation. Both Ripley Mayor Craig Fitzhugh and Kyle Spurgeon, President and CEO of the Greater Jackson Chamber of Commerce, talked about how critically important solar has become as a source of renewable energy for industrial prospects.

“If you don’t have it, you are not going to make the cut,” Fitzhugh said, with Spurgeon adding, “We think about it as a tool in our toolbox just like fiber was a decade ago.”

Madison Crooks Haynes, an Associate at the law firm Bradley Arant Boult Cummings LLP and also a member of TenneSEIA, stressed the importance of developing a solar policy and other “rules of the road” as early as possible. “Engage early in the process and get everyone to the table,” she urged attendees.

Understanding the needs of the community is a point that was stressed by Gina Brown, Director of Economic and Community Development at Silicon Ranch. The Nashville-based corporation is one of the nation’s largest independent power producers and a community-focused renewable energy company.

Lindsay Hanna, Director of Government Relations and Climate Policy for The Nature Conservancy, noted that her organization has dual missions of preserving wildlife habitats while also building out renewables.

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