Bredesen Plans Major Solar Energy Facility In West Tennessee

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Gov. Phil Bredesen today proposed the Volunteer State Solar Initiative, a comprehensive solar-energy and economic-development program that will use up to $62.5 million in federal American Recovery and Reinvestment Act funds to advance job creation, education, research, and renewable-power production in Tennessee.

In announcing the new initiative, Bredesen was joined by legislative leaders and key partners including Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL), the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA), and the University of Tennessee (UT).

Support was registered from Washington, D.C., by members of Tennessee's congressional delegation, including U.S. House Science and Technology Committee Chairman Bart Gordon and Congressman John Tanner, a member of the House Ways and Means Committee.

Subject to approval by the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) and the Tennessee General Assembly, the proposed initiative consists of two closely related projects:

· The Tennessee Solar Institute at UT and ORNL, which will focus on basic science and industry partnerships to improve the affordability and efficiency of solar products; and

· The West Tennessee Solar Farm near Brownsville, a five-megawatt 20-acre power generation facility at the Haywood County industrial megasite that will be one of the largest installations in the Southeast and serve as a demonstration tool for educational, research and economic-development purposes.

"Our success over the past few months in recruiting solar-industry manufacturers to Tennessee shows we have bright economic prospects for additional job growth in this area," Bredesen said. "Now, it's time to build on our strengths and position Tennessee for the next wave of investment in the renewable-energy sector. This approach fits within our state's broader job creation strategy, and addresses President Obama's short- and long-term goals in economic stimulus and renewable energy."

Congressman Gordon, an original supporter of the federal Energy Independence and Security Act, which will make renewable energy more accessible and affordable for consumers, lauded the project as a forward-looking investment in Tennessee's future.

"This statewide initiative puts Tennessee in a leading role nationally to promote and capitalize on the solar industry, and in turn curb our nation's dependence on foreign oil," Gordon said. "It also will bring us closer to eventually developing a regional high-tech corridor, connecting Oak Ridge and UT with Tennessee Tech, MTSU, Vanderbilt, and the Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama."

Congressman Tanner, a longtime advocate for rural economic development, said the investment makes sense given the solar-related economic activity already underway in Tennessee.

"The solar farm represents a near-term economic boost in West Tennessee with manufacturing and installation jobs, and a long-range economic asset to help market the Haywood County megasite," Tanner said. "The broader initiative is another step toward meeting our larger goal of energy independence."


The Tennessee Solar Institute will be located at the UT and ORNL campuses in Knoxville and Oak Ridge. At UT, the institute will anchor the new Joint Institute for Advanced Materials, a previously funded shovel-ready 132,000-square-foot facility that will be the first building in the university's new Cherokee Farm Innovation Campus. At ORNL, the institute will take advantage of existing world-class DOE research assets including the Spallation Neutron Source and the world's most powerful supercomputers.

The institute will support Tennessee's economic growth strategy and advance U.S. competitiveness by bringing together industry and research activities to improve the conversion of solar energy into electricity and increase the capacity of key technologies for storing electrical energy. One ultimate goal: Make solar technologies more affordable and efficient, which will help accelerate their adoption in the U.S. and globally. Short-term efforts will be accomplished in part through increased hiring of graduate research scholars, postdoctoral fellows and support staff at UT.

UT Acting President Jan Simek said, "The Solar Institute will put UT at the cutting edge of renewable-technology research. This is a wonderful opportunity to enhance UT's research portfolio and at the same time promote renewable energy in Tennessee."

ORNL Director Thom Mason added, "Tennessee is taking advantage of a unique opportunity to become a national leader in the solar industry. By leveraging all of the state's assets on the single goal of making solar energy more affordable, there is a good chance that the Solar Institute will help bring even more jobs to Tennessee."

Conversations with manufacturers have begun about how the Solar Institute can best support their needs as well as discussions about how the institute can support utilities, government agencies, consumers, and other stakeholders. Among other activities, the Solar Institute will pursue industry partnerships to help improve existing manufacturing processes as well as incubate solar photovoltaic start-up firms and help advance laboratory processes into pilot manufacturing efforts. Additionally, the institute will work with the affiliated Solar Farm to demonstrate new technologies and examine the large solar array's interaction with the region's electrical grid.


The West Tennessee Solar Farm will be located at the new Haywood County industrial megasite in a partnership with TVA, the nation's largest public power company. Under a preliminary agreement, TVA will purchase power generated by the Solar Farm at a renewable-energy price. Proceeds from power sales will be reinvested in the site for maintenance, expansion and improvement.

"The governor's comprehensive initiative addresses energy, environmental and economic-development issues that are important to all of us, and TVA is proud to be a part of it," said Tom Kilgore, president and CEO of TVA. "We look forward to including energy from the West Tennessee Solar Farm as a clean and renewable energy source for TVA's power supply."

From an economic-development standpoint, the Solar Farm will be a unique asset to help market rural Haywood County to new industry, including renewable-energy product and equipment manufacturers that may be considering expanding in Tennessee, officials said.

Moreover, the farm will serve as a showcase for Tennessee-made solar products and components, such as panels assembled by Sharp Solar Energy Solutions Group, which operates a nearby manufacturing facility in Memphis, and glass produced by AGC Flat Glass, which has a longstanding manufacturing presence in Northeast Tennessee, it was stated.

Additionally, the farm will include materials produced by more recent entrants to the Volunteer State, including Hemlock Semiconductor and Wacker Chemie AG, both producers of polycrystalline silicon, a key precursor element in photovoltaic solar panels. Product orders will represent a boost in short-term production for manufacturers such as Sharp and AGC Flat Glass and result in downstream economic activity associated with the installation.

In addition to supporting the Solar Institute's research mission, the Solar Farm will serve as an educational site for students and the public. The farm, which will be located at a site to be determined along Interstate 40, will be Tennessee's largest solar installation to date and one of the largest in the Southeast. Demonstrating the zero-carbon production of electricity on a highly visible and significant scale is expected to encourage future renewable-energy interest and investments.

The Volunteer State Solar Initiative is the most recent in a series of landmark energy-related investments Tennessee has made over the past two years under the leadership of Bredesen and the General Assembly, his office said.

Bredesen added: "Short-term, these new projects will go hand-in-hand with creating or supporting jobs in construction, manufacturing and installation, and scientific efforts to improve the affordability and efficiency of solar energy. Long-term, they will strengthen Tennessee's reputation as a national energy research hub and emerging force in the U.S. solar industry."


The Volunteer State Solar Initiative will be a comprehensive solar-energy and economic-development program focusing on job creation, education, renewable-power production, and research. The proposed initiative consists of two related projects: The Tennessee Solar Institute at the University of Tennessee (UT) and Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL), which will focus on basic science and industry partnerships; and the West Tennessee Solar Farm near Brownsville, a five-megawatt 20-acre power generation facility that will serve as a demonstration tool for educational, research and economic-development purposes in partnership with the Tennessee Valley Authority.


· Improve affordability and efficiency of solar products
· Partner with solar industry to improve manufacturing processes
· Assist with converting laboratory processes to pilot manufacturing
· Incubate solar photovoltaic start-up firms
· Demonstrate technologies at Solar Farm

· Market Haywood County megasite, including to renewable firms
· Serve as showcase for Tennessee-made solar products
· Generate power sold to TVA, with revenues reinvested in facility
· Serve as educational site for students and the public
· Support Solar Institute research


· UT and ORNL; institute will anchor previously funded shovel-ready 132,000-square-foot facility to be built at UT's new Cherokee Farm campus

· Approximately 20-acre site yet-to-be-determined alongside Interstate 40 at Haywood County megasite


· Hiring researchers, postdoctoral fellows and staff
· Turn-key R&D support for solar industry
· Leads activity at Cherokee Farm
· Production boost for manufacturers such as Sharp and AGC Flat Glass
· Installation jobs
· Leads activity at Haywood County megasite


The Bredesen office said, "Under the leadership of Gov. Phil Bredesen and the Tennessee General Assembly, the state of Tennessee has become a national leader in encouraging energy efficiency and conservation and promoting renewable energy. In 2008, Bredesen established the Governor's Task Force on Energy Policy to explore statewide strategies, including: Advancing efforts by state government to lead by example in retrofitting its largest buildings with more energy-efficient equipment and appliances and purchasing more fuel-efficient vehicles in its fleet; formally designating the clean-energy technology sector as eligible for our state's emerging industry tax credit; and, in the interest of promoting statewide efficiency, establishing a residential building code in areas of the state where no minimum standards exist. Legislation is currently before the General Assembly to accomplish these goals and more.

"Additionally, lawmakers last year established the Energy Efficient Schools Initiative (EESI) using approximately $90 million in excess proceeds from state lottery program to fund energy-efficient retrofits of public school buildings across Tennessee. The first round of grants will be provided this year to hundreds of K-12 schools. State investments in energy efficiency are ongoing, including possible efforts to help small- and medium-sized commercial and industrial firms obtain low-interest loans to make energy efficiency improvements in their facilities, pending deliberation and approval by the General Assembly.

"Meanwhile, the state of Tennessee has focused significant resources in promoting cleaner and independent sources of energy in the transportation sector. In 2007, the state invested approximately $70 million to establish the Tennessee Biofuels Initiative between the University of Tennessee (UT) and Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL). The resulting activities led to a partnership between DuPont Danisco Cellulosic Ethanol, LLC, and Genera Energy, LLC, representing the UT Research Foundation. Last October, the partnership began developing a pilot-scale cellulosic ethanol biorefinery and research and development facility. The state's investments successfully leveraged a $135-million investment by the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) to create a Bioenergy Research Center at ORNL.

"More recently, the state began exploring opportunities to accelerate the development of electric vehicles, including those that will be produced by Nissan, which in 2008 completed the relocation of its North American headquarters to Middle Tennessee. Later this month, Gov. Bredesen will ask the General Assembly to allocate approximately $5 million in energy-related funds to help underwrite the deployment of charging infrastructure that will support electric vehicles as they become commercially available in late 2010 and early 2011.

"Finally, Tennessee's economic-development strategy has generated notable success in recruiting renewable-energy firms, marked by billion-dollar investments in our state by two of the solar industry's largest suppliers. Within the past six months, Hemlock Semiconductor and Wacker Chemie AG, both producers of polycrystalline silicon, a key precursor element in photovoltaic solar panels, announced plans to bring thousands of jobs to Tennessee as the U.S. solar market expands. Hemlock Semiconductor will construct its production facility in Middle Tennessee and Wacker Chemie will open a production site in Southeast Tennessee.

"The arrival of Hemlock and Wacker in the Volunteer State is in part attributable to an innovative green-energy tax credit approved by the General Assembly last year. The companies' decisions reflect a confidence in Tennessee's commitment to making further investments that encourage the development of solar energy. The new Volunteer State Solar Initiative is a natural next step in that commitment."

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